By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Tony Ieradi pulled a dumpster away from the wall to create a barrier of sorts blocking the way into a small, enclosed area where the trash is stored underneath the C-View condominiums at the corner of 39th Street and Pleasure Avenue.
Ieradi wasn’t trying to prevent wild animals from rummaging through the trash. He explained that unruly teenagers have been using the trash storage area to urinate and defecate.
Now, Ieradi and other condominium owners are urging Sea Isle City officials to crack down on rowdy teens and young adults who have been urinating in public, vandalizing private property and engaging in other destructive behavior this summer.
In public comments during a City Council meeting on Friday, the condo owners said the teens are simply getting out of hand. City officials responded by pledging that they will do everything they can to stop the unruly behavior.
“We want to work with you and we will,” City Business Administrator George Savastano told the condo owners.
“There’s a lot of things we can do and are going to do,” Savastano added.
Police Chief Tom McQuillen also promised the condo owners that his department will take steps to clamp down on the troublemakers. McQuillen, though, emphasized that his department needs the public’s help by having residents immediately notify police when they see trouble happening.
“We try to get there as quickly as possible,” McQuillen said.
McQuillen noted that the police department has been working with a coalition of condominium associations on ways to prevent the teens from trespassing on private property and causing damage.
Police are adding more patrols in areas known to be hot spots, he said. He also said he would like to see more surveillance cameras installed to help police identify and catch the offenders.
“We are continuing to look at everything we can,” McQuillen said.
In another step, Savastano announced that the city will keep public bathrooms open now until 11 p.m., instead of closing them at 9:30 p.m., to prevent teens from sneaking onto private property to urinate or defecate at night. The city had been closing public bathrooms at 9:30 p.m. because they have been vandalized, he pointed out.
Ieradi, the president of the C-View III Condominium Association, said in a statement that the summer of 2021 “has been filled with problems” for homeowners and renters.
“The issues appear to be perpetrated by teens and young adults,” he said. “Acts of vandalism, violence, an overabundance of littering and public nuisances have escalated to what appears to be an unprecedented level.”
Like other condo representatives who appeared at the Council meeting, Ieradi stressed that it will take a combined effort between residents and the city to curtail the problems.”
Local government, residents and businesses “need to acknowledge there is an issue, and then work together to help drive a solution,” he said in his statement.
In the meantime, the C-View condo complex has been installing more surveillance cameras and warning signs to deter or catch trespassers, Ieradi said.
Kathy McNichols, secretary of the C-View I Condominium Association, also expressed her frustration with the rowdy teens during remarks to Council. She said the Fourth of July was “very destructive,” when the town was packed with holiday crowds.
“There seems to be no control over these kids,” McNichols said.
Tony Desderio, president of 4400 Beach Condominium Association, told Council that the unruly behavior has escalated to include fights on Sea Isle’s Promenade.
“It’s already starting to escalate, so we have to put a cap on it now,” Desderio said while suggesting that the city should consider imposing a curfew on teens or other restrictive measures.
For years, Sea Isle has been closing its beaches at 10 p.m. as a public safety measure. The popular oceanfront Promenade stays open around-the-clock, though.
City Solicitor Paul Baldini told the condo representatives that Sea Isle maintains a “zero tolerance” policy toward rowdy behavior. Baldini assured them that police will issue a summons or make arrests when they catch offenders.
Council President Jack Gibson noted that other shore towns have been experiencing trouble with unruly crowds this summer, not just Sea Isle.
“It’s not a problem that is unique to Sea Isle,” Gibson said.
Earlier this month, Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi signed an executive order restricting access to that town’s beaches and Boardwalk at night to help disperse “large groups of individuals who are congregating in unmanageable numbers on public property.”
Under the order, Avalon’s beaches will be closed to the public each day from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. and there will be no access to the Boardwalk between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. The restrictions will be in effect until further notice, Pagliughi said.
Pagliughi and Avalon Police Chief Jeffrey Christopher partly blamed the outbreak of bad behavior on new directives from Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration that they said make it harder for law enforcement to deal with youthful offenders.
“This unfortunate measure is a direct result of Governor Murphy’s destruction of effective enforcement of laws pertaining to juveniles, and the elimination of certain police powers,” Pagliughi said in a statement.
Sea Isle officials also expressed their frustration with the laws. McQuillen bluntly said that the new legislation has “really hamstrung” police in the course of their duties.
While explaining the legislation to Council, McQuillen called it “horrific” and insane.”
“It’s the most detrimental legislation in my career,” he said in an interview after the Council meeting.
McQuillen told Council that police departments in New Jersey must follow a December 2020 directive from state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal that requires officers to give “curbside warnings” to juveniles who are engaging in minor acts of delinquency instead of detaining or arresting them.
The curbside warnings are part of broader reforms in New Jersey’s justice system “to demonstrate to juveniles that police officers are present to give guidance, direction, and assistance, and not simply to take them into custody,” according to the directive.
For instance, if a juvenile is in possession of drugs or alcohol, police can do nothing more than issue a warning. Juveniles are not required to give police their names. Police are also limited in notifying the parents of juveniles.
“The circumstances under which an officer can call a parent is severely limited in New Jersey,” Baldini said.
Councilwoman Mary Tighe said Sea Isle’s governing body should formally protest the state restrictions imposed on police by the new laws and the attorney general’s directive. She criticized them as “these stupid new rules.”