BEACH HAVEN – A crowd of 300 to 400 teenagers mobbed Beach Haven on July 3, creating a sense of mayhem authorities want to curtail for the future.
Beach Haven Police Chief James Markoski estimated that the majority of mob ranged in age from 16-18, although some were as young as 14 and as old as 20.
At a special meeting held by the Beach Haven Borough Council, borough authorities provided details about the problem. They announced steps they plan to take, as well as their frustrations with a state law they say limits their responses.
“We had groups of teens blocking sidewalks, causing strollers to go out into the roadway,” said Markoski. “Business would call and ask us to move the teens blocking their stores.”
Teens subsequently headed towards the beach and off to side streets. There were reports of loud noise and fighting. Residents complained of property damage and of witnessing young people urinating against buildings.
“Saturday night was horrendous for us,” Loretta Lemongello said. “I think we got the bulk of the kids coming, and it was scary.”
“I feel badly for you (the police), because we sit on our deck and see it all happen,” continued Lemogello. “The kids are bold and brazen.”
Beach Haven has a 9 p.m. curfew in place on the beaches. Those who are underage are expected to be off the streets by midnight. Authorities submit that shifting the latter to an earlier time could provoke local business officers to put up a legal fight against the change.
“The majority of the juveniles are not looking to cause damage or start fights,” Markoski acknowledged. “They’re here on vacation looking to meet other kids their age and just hang out.”
In the meantime, the police find their hands tied in bringing charges where they may be warranted. Last year, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal issued a statewide directive to law enforcement agencies to “divert juveniles away from law enforcement and toward social or familial support.”
“Most of the tickets we were able to write in the past are now curbside warnings now,” said Markoski. “If an officer wants to charge a juvenile, we need to ask permission from the prosecutor’s office by meeting certain criteria.”
One of the problems appears to be related to a transportation issue. As police are clearing the parks, many of the teens can’t figure out a way to get back home. A lot used the LBI shuttle service, walked or rode their bikes from the northern end of the island.
The LBI shuttle does its last run from Beach Haven at 10 p.m. Authorities are hopeful that increasing the service will alleviate some of the issues.
Two shuttles will now go down to Butler Park at 11 p.m., where police plan to let teens know this is their last shot at getting a ride.
“I’ve received calls from parents and business owners that this (July 3rd crowd) was set up as a flash mob style crowd,” shared Markorski. “These events are becoming more common especially at the shore areas.”
Most of the members of the public who attended the nearly two-hour meeting did so by remote access, with many expressing their dismay about the circumstances.
“I taught teenagers for 40 years, so it’s not like I don’t understand their behaviors and impulsiveness,” shared Ria Flynn. “However, when impulsiveness becomes vandalism and when people are frightened in their own homes, and when the 7-Eleven owner is afraid to keep his store open, things are wrong.”
Beach Haven Mayor Colleen Lambert said she reached out to both county and state officials for ways to combat the issue and comply with the new state law.
“Everyone was sympathetic and commented on how this was a systemic issue affecting numerous coastal resort communities,” Lambert shared. “We need more than consolation; we need an effective strategy for dealing with the situation.”