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Keep that f-cking teenager on a leash or get a $1,500 fine!

You tell that good-for-nothing hoodlum of a son you have to stay the f-ck off my lawn. At 2am in the morning.

Jersey Shore Towns Try to Curb Unruly Teens With Curfews

Cities like Wildwood, N.J., are among those that tightened rules for juveniles this summer

By Liyan Qi, WSJ

Aug. 23, 2023 11:00 am ET

WILDWOOD, N.J.—It was a typical summer Saturday night here with thousands of tourists packed on the boardwalk. A giant Ferris wheel turned, its lights sparkling, while screams from nearby roller coasters filled the air. The scent of french fries was everywhere.

That was, until midnight. Lights on the main pier went out. An audio recording at the pier repeated an announcement that the boardwalk was closed as “Wildwood Days”—an iconic song from the 1960s about teens enjoying the nighttime fun here—played in the background. A pair of officers started patrolling the nearby boardwalk, telling unaccompanied teenagers it was time to go.

Wildwood wants to be a little less wild, so it tightened its curfew rules. Starting Aug. 2, no minors can be in the street or any public space without a guardian between midnight and 6 a.m. Previously, the youth curfew went into effect at 1 a.m. The city also moved up its beach curfew for everyone by an hour to 9 p.m. Violators could face community service or a fine of up to $1,000.

Shore towns in New Jersey have rolled out numerous curfew measures this summer in response to rising complaints and concerns from local business owners and residents about unruly behavior. After years in isolation during the pandemic, teenagers longing to gather with their peers have found their needs increasingly at odds with local residents and businesses.

“One group of teens doing stupid things doesn’t mean all of us are doing stupid things,” Robert Yacovelli, 18, said after officers checked his ID and walked away. Yacovelli, who works on the pier as a lifeguard, said he prefers socializing outside rather than in the cramped beach-staff quarters.

Police officers asked to see the IDs of 18-year-olds Shane Straub, right; Robert Yacovelli, center, and Joseph Tortella in Wildwood, N.J., earlier this month.

City officials say the tweaked curfew isn’t in response to any serious issues, like large groups of minors drinking alcohol, shoplifting or committing vandalism.

“We are being proactive not reactive,” said Mayor Pete Byron.

Officials and businesses in shore towns have complained that Gov. Phil Murphy’s juvenile-justice reforms, passed in 2021 aimed at keeping young people out of jail, have given teenagers more freedom to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana and have weakened police’s power to keep the disruptive behaviors at bay.

Business owners in Wildwood say they are supportive of the curfew measures and want to make families feel safe. It is a balancing act for local authorities, said Will Morey, president and chief executive of Morey’s Piers, a main tourism attraction in Wildwood.

“Part of the magic with the shore is the freedom that teenagers have when they’re down here running around and going to the beach and boardwalk…We don’t want to stifle that,” Morey said. “I do think that the curfew is just a way of saying we want you to have a good time, but we want there to be guard rails.”

On a recent Saturday afternoon, 48-year-old Sheryl Carter, a visitor from Coatesville, Pa., said she would allow her children to go out after midnight because she trusts them to be responsible and not create chaos. “There’s silly stuff we were doing growing up too…but nothing bad,” Carter said, while walking on the boardwalk with her family.

Madalyn Carter, her 15-year-old daughter, said she would prefer skateboarding and riding on the boardwalk with her friends at night. “We just want to have some space and hang out with our friends, without anybody yelling at us,” she said.

After an unusually rowdy group of teenagers gathered over the Memorial Day weekend, Ocean City, N.J., in June implemented an 8 p.m. beach curfew for all ages and an 11 p.m. public-space curfew for juveniles, plus a backpack ban on the boardwalk between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. Breaking curfew could result in a maximum $1,500 fine.

Those measures seemed to have worked in limiting unruly behaviors. The total number of curbside warnings, an oral warning by an officer given to a juvenile, through July 18 this year was 7,065, less than half of the same period of last year, according to Doug Bergen, the city’s public information officer.

Wes Kazmarck, who owns the Surf Mall on the boardwalk in Ocean City, said shoplifting earlier this year was much worse than it ever had been. “I’m really glad the city did what they did. The boardwalk is what it used to be again,” said Kazmarck, who is also the head of the Ocean City Boardwalk Merchants Association.

It isn’t just the Jersey Shore. U.S. cities such as Atlanta and Baltimore have instituted strict youth curfews to battle increased youth violence since Covid.

The youth curfew conversation has historically come in waves. Such restrictions became popular during the 1990s before research showed that they might be counterproductive, said Kirby Gaherty, program director for justice initiatives at the National League of Cities, an advocacy group that represents cities, towns and villages. Now officials are trying to bring them back in different ways, Gaherty said.

In Wildwood, local officials and businesses said they have tried to make the city more family friendly in recent decades. John Gigliotti, known locally as Gigi, has been driving a tramcar on the boardwalk for 32 years. “Years ago families came, but I think more so now. They grew up, and they came here, more with their kids,” he said while driving a yellow tramcar named after him.

“Wildwood used to be called little Las Vegas. It’s our history. It’s amazing. We don’t have to erase it,” said Michelle Rutkowski, 43, owner of Boardwalk’s Best, a gift shop on the boardwalk. She added that as the area attracts more families, she thinks the juvenile curfew is a good idea.

“There are now more family things with family fun but there’s got to be family rules,” she said.

After midnight, a police officer told a group of teenage boys to walk off the boardwalk. One of them turned around and said “I don’t care,” before running off with his friends.

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