In an attempt to stop a repeat of numerous incidents and one particularly vile display of non-compliance with authorities that occurred last summer in Ortley Beach, juveniles who engage in illicit or disorderly behavior will be told to disperse before being detained by officers this this summer as part of a curfew enacted under an emergency management curfew order.
Toms River Police Chief Mitch Little and Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill announced the curfew for the township’s barrier island portion on Wednesday, in the run-up to Memorial Day weekend. At a township council meeting last night, residents and council members reacted – mostly positively – with some saying local ordinances should go further.
The curfew, which applies to juveniles aged 17 and under, prohibits teens unaccompanied by an adult from being on the streets of Ortley Beach and the township’s North Beaches from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. beginning on Friday, May 26 and extending through midnight Tuesday, Sept. 5.
“We don’t want to have a repeat of the incidences we had during previous summer seasons,” Hill said. “Last year, before we implemented the curfew, we had a few ‘pop-up parties’ occur with large crowds of young people disturbing the peace in Ortley Beach. We are looking to prevent that from happening again this year.”
Over the last two years, curfew orders were enacted utilizing the pandemic-era state of emergency powers granted to authorities. But this year, in the absence of the state of emergency, police found themselves with their hands largely tied due to juvenile justice reform laws that prevent police from identifying, searching or charging juveniles with crimes in a host of scenarios. If police violate those laws, the police officer can be personally charged with a third degree crime and face a jail term. The new order is based on state statutes that establish local “emergency or temporary acts” to prevent disorderly conduct scenarios.
Violators will be given two warnings to disperse before being detained, at which time their parent, guardian or adult caretaker will be contacted “for appropriate actions,” a statement from the township said. Adults, including employers, who “allow or encourage juveniles to violate the curfew” will be subject to summonses and fines.
“I would like a more permanent solution if we can do it, but at least we’re covered for the summer,” said Paul Jeffrey, an Ortley Beach resident who is a leader in the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association.
“Obviously there are a lot of differences of opinion, but we in the police department are in extreme support of the curfew,” said Little, at the meeting, reiterating that “the juveniles know” police powers have been curtailed under the law in recent years, and giving officers the ability to detain troublemakers – even to turn them back over to a supervising adult – is a tool that can be used to prevent incidents from escalating.
Little said the foul behavior by juveniles came with real safety consequences last summer.
“The safety issue we have is evidenced by last year,” he said. “We had to have more officers assigned to the beach … we had 20 officers in those two miles, leaving the mainland kind of stripped.”
Councilman Justin Lamb, who works as a police officer in Lavallette – which is surrounded by Toms River jurisdictions – pushed the council to consider adopting an ordinance similar to one he and his fellow officers there enforce each summer. The Lavallette ordinance, which is permanently adopted, disallows beach access from midnight to 5 a.m. except for those who are fishing.
“I think it’s a problem when you have an ordinance like that in Lavallette and we don’t have a matching ordinance,” said Lamb, however others indicated many of the issues in recent years have occurred on the streets and near businesses, rather than on the beachfront.
Last season produced an incident on the July 4 holiday that shocked the community. What many described as a mob of mostly-intoxicated teens vandalized property around Fourth Avenue, openly taunted police officers and occupied the lanes of Route 35 and other streets, refusing to leave. A female participant ultimately attempted to strike a police officer.
“With approximately 200 to 300 juveniles now gathered in close proximity, the officer escorted the female to side of the roadway and she began to struggle, yelling at him, flailing her arms, and kicking him multiple times,” a police spokeswoman said at the time. “Continuing to fight, she was arrested and placed in the patrol vehicle. The crowd of juveniles began to yell, throw rocks, and attempt to interfere, both verbally and physically, with the officer and arriving officers.”
Residents in the area woke up to property damage, and their community littered with garbage and alcohol containers, forcing the township’s Public Works employees to “address the additional nuisance,” police said in the statement at the time.
“It’s become a huge problem, and obviously a safety problem,” said Little, on Wednesday, reiterating the pressure officers face carrying out their duties in the current era. “People say, ‘you’re the police, how can you not do anything?’ Well, we agree!”
“Honestly, the officers are very concerned about being charged with a crime and losing their jobs over something we all know is wrong,” he continued, referencing prohibitions placed on officers when juveniles are found to be in possession of alcohol, marijuana or are intoxicated.
Little did say, however, that the temporary curfew order may be more appropriate to address problems on the barrier island as opposed to a formal ordinance passed by the council, as was done in Ocean City to deal with similar issues. There, a local ordinance creates new violations for those engaged in nuisance behavior, and allows police to detain minors until their parents pick them up at the station. The entirety of Ocean City, however, is a resort community while Toms River’s issues with juveniles are largely limited to the island. An ordinance may have to be universally imposed on the entire township, officials said.
Little did say that the curfew is primarily in place to deter mobs and ‘pop-up parties,’ not to intentionally target teens who are walking home from a friend’s house or simply outdoors at night. Formal exceptions to the curfew include scenarios where a juvenile is accompanied by a parent, legal guardian or adult caretaker, those doing errands at the direction of an adult, those traveling two and from their jobs and those involved in activities protected by the first amendment.