AVALON - It seems to start up shortly after dark on hot summer nights. Police Chief William McCormick says packs of roving teenagers begin misbehaving.
McCormick said a public education campaign that aimed to reduce teenage vandalism has failed, and so he has asked Borough Council to change the curfew from midnight to 10 p.m. This would get the teenagers off the streets after the light fades.
"It's the hours of darkness. We tried to educate. We tried, and we need to move on to the next phase," McCormick said.
Vandalism calls have been rising steadily in recent years. McCormick said there were 29 incidents in 2010, followed by 37 and 40 the next two years. This year, with a little more than a week to go before Labor Day, the number stands at 48.
"We're having these huge packs of kids, mostly on bicycles, terrorizing neighborhoods and hanging out in front of bars on Dune Drive. The kids seem to be getting bored," McCormick said.
Police handed out warnings to teenagers earlier this summer as part of a public education campaign. McCormick said about 100 warnings were issued, but the problems continued. So in recent weeks, officers began writing tickets, mostly for bicycle infractions.
McCormick told Borough Council it has become a public-safety issue.
"They're riding three or four abreast in the middle of traffic with no helmets and no lights. I'm worried about all the cars, the kids and the pedestrians," McCormick said.
The midnight curfew for those younger than 18 was fully instituted in 2009. But McCormick said teenagers are not violating the law. The problems are happening before midnight.
"They obey the curfew, but they misbehave," he said.
Council had hoped the public-education campaign would solve the problem. Councilwoman Nancy Hudanich said the police gave plenty of warnings to teenagers to follow the rules and be courteous, but some still are breaking rules on their bicycles and not being civil or polite. As tickets are issued, parents who did control their children are starting to complain.
"It saddens me the public-education campaign didn't work," Hudanich said.
With the summer coming to a close, council is not expected to put anything in place for this year, but the curfew issue could be a hot winter topic.
"Midnight to 10 is a bit draconian, and I don't think it will go down well with parents. I strongly urge you to push for 11, even though I'm in bed by 10," Seventh Street resident Martha Wright told council at a recent meeting.
Council President David Ellenberg said those who live on the busy streets where there are problems may feel differently.
One possible solution is to give the teenagers more organized activities. Recreation Supervisor Brian Juzaitis is looking into hosting events such as basketball games and video game tournaments at the Avalon Community Center.
"We tried dances in the past, and I don't know that we'd go back to that," Juzaitis said. "The question is how do you get them to come here when they want to ride their bikes and cruise through the town?"
More recreation programs still may not save the midnight curfew. The center closes at 8 p.m., and Juzaitis said the discussion is about keeping it open next summer only until 10 p.m.
"That gives parents an easy place to find their children at 10 p.m.," Juzaitis said.
Hudanich said Stone Harbor has an 11 p.m. curfew, but she agrees there are safety concerns once the sun sets. She noted even families are riding bicycles around without any lights or reflectors.
"If parents aren't assuming a role to protect their teenagers, then we're going to have to take an initiative and say 10 o'clock," Hudanich said.
The curfew law calls for those younger than 18 to be off public places unless accompanied by a parent or guardian between midnight and 6 a.m. Halloween eve, or "mischief night," has a curfew of 7 p.m. There are exceptions such as for jobs, school functions, family emergencies and several others.
The ordinance also makes it clear that parents and guardians have some responsibility. Violations can lead to fines of as much as $1,000 and 90 hours of community service. McCormick said violations typically end up with the child picking up litter or performing some other community service. He said the earlier curfew would help the police when problems occur.
"It would be a great tool to have," he said.
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