Mayor Leonard Desiderio


Sea Isle City is imposing a new curfew on juveniles and will also ban backpacks from the Promenade and beaches starting at 10 p.m. as part of its strategy to prevent rowdy teenagers from disrupting the pivotal summer tourism season.

Asserting that both measures are constitutional, City Council introduced two ordinances Tuesday to make the curfew and backpack ban new laws that will be in effect from Memorial Day to Labor Day in the seaside resort town.

“These are not overbearing measures. They’re reasonable. They’re fair,” City Solicitor Paul Baldini said during the Council meeting.

For the curfew, juveniles under the age of 18 generally will not be allowed out in public from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. However, there will be exceptions for minors who are accompanied by adults, are going to or returning from their summer jobs or are participating in formal activities such as recreation programs.

Baldini stressed that police will give juveniles a number of warnings to go home if they are out after curfew. Only if the juveniles ignore repeated warnings will police have the authority to take them into custody and call their parents.

Juveniles will not be arrested or given a summons for violating the curfew, Baldini said.

“It’s not designed to punish anybody. It’s designed for them to go home,” he said of the curfew in an interview after the Council meeting.

The city is looking to ban backpacks after 10 p.m. on the beaches and oceanfront Promenade for juveniles and adults from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The idea is to prevent them from using backpacks to hide alcoholic beverages or other contraband while they are in public places.

Adults and juveniles will receive verbal warnings if they violate the backpack ban. After repeated warnings, police officers will have the discretion to take it to “the next level,” Sea Isle Police Chief Anthony Garreffi said.

For adults, that may mean they could be slapped with fines for carrying backpacks after hours.

Juveniles, on the other hand, may be taken to a police substation, where they will wait until their parents or legal guardians come to pick them up. Police are planning to place a new substation at 40th Street and the Promenade over the summer.

A police substation like this one will be used this summer at 40th Street and the Promenade to hold juveniles in custody until their parents pick them up.

Baldini said police will not be searching or confiscating backpacks.

“It’s not the intention of the city to search anybody’s backpack at any time,” he said.

A public hearing and final vote on the curfew and backpack ordinances are scheduled for the City Council meeting on March 28.

Mayor Leonard Desiderio and Council President Mary Tighe said the ordinances are in response to appeals from the public to prevent large groups of teens or young people from disrupting the town during the summer season.

Tighe emphasized that the curfew and backpack ban are not meant to harass “innocent, law-abiding people.”

At the same time, Tighe said the city anticipated some pushback from critics who might not think the ordinances are fair or constitutional.

“We’re not going to make everybody happy,” she said

Desiderio said the city has talked about the problems with troublemaking teens for two years. He believes the city can wait no longer to take action.

He characterized the ordinances as a way to provide “our police with tools to better ensure public safety and specifically to address the problems we’ve experienced over the past couple summers with disruptive behavior by young people.”

Like other towns at the Jersey Shore, Sea Isle has experienced an outbreak of public drinking, theft, vandalism and other crimes committed by groups of unruly teens and young people during the last two summers.

City Solicitor Paul Baldini says much research was done to make sure the new ordinances are constitutional.

Desiderio has expressed his frustration with state lawmakers for not responding to Sea Isle’s appeals for help to curb the problem. Now, Desiderio and City Council have devised a local plan for cracking down on rowdy teens that includes giving the Sea Isle police more power to take juveniles into custody and call their parents.

“We’ve spoken about this at length in these chambers many times,” Desiderio told the Council members. “We’ve repeatedly urged our state legislators to assist by rolling back some of the ill-conceived laws and directives put into place over the past few years that created this problem; and frankly, by all objective standards it has been a problem.”

Desiderio was referring to Gov. Phil Murphy’s juvenile justice reforms that restrict police in how far they can go in dealing with teens who drink alcohol or smoke marijuana in public. Essentially, police can only give them verbal warnings instead of taking them into custody or notifying their parents.

Sea Isle studied laws that other towns and cities across the country have implemented to help it craft the new ordinances for the 10 p.m. curfew and backpack ban, Baldini said. He stressed that those measures have been upheld as constitutional by the courts.

Baldini noted that Sea Isle used a curfew law that Dallas has in place as a model. The Dallas curfew faced legal challenges, but was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We spent a lot of time on this ordinance,” Baldini said of Sea Isle’s proposed curfew. “We believe that it is constitutionally written.”

Although Sea Isle used language from laws in other towns and cities as a model, it also “tailored” the curfew and backpack ordinances to fit its needs, including granting certain exceptions to young people or adults who may violate the law, Desiderio and Baldini said.

“I must stress that these ordinances are very benign,” Desiderio said. “They mandate multiple warnings and opportunities for compliance before law enforcement takes further action.”

During the public comment portion of the Council meeting, local resident Tom Mcguire urged city officials to start the curfew at 11 p.m. instead of 10.

Mcguire maintained that a 10 p.m. curfew is simply too early for teens. He also questioned whether the curfew would hurt teen-oriented businesses, such as arcades, by forcing them to close earlier than normal.

Tighe responded that local businesses are already closing earlier during the summer because rowdy teens are roaming around in public, causing trouble.

Sea Isle’s oceanfront Promenade is a popular spot at night for teenagers and young adults during the summer tourism season.