Township officials are pursuing an ordinance that would embolden police efforts to curb loitering in response to "widespread concern" over a recent spate of violent crimes in Wyckoff.
Mayor Chris DePhillips discussed the idea with colleagues at a committee meeting Tuesday evening.
"From my own observations, loitering has been increasing steadily at Boulder Run and in other places in the township — not merely because it's the summer, and because kids are home from school," DePhillips said. "It's creating widespread concern in the community and it's something we need to look at."
No ordinance has been proposed or drafted yet; the township attorney has been tasked with looking into similar law around the state reporting back to the committee.
Committeeman Kevin Rooney called a potential anti-loitering ordinance a "great idea" but contended the problem may not be the endemic concern that it appears to be to many in the public.
"It's been reported, unfortunately, that we've had some crime in town recently with two major incidents that became very public and it seems that Wyckoff now has a feeling that it is under attack and there's a huge crime wave," Rooney said. "But that's not the case."
Boulder Run is under new public scrutiny at the privately-owned shopping center.
"While loitering is a problem in Boulder Run I don't see it anywhere else in the community right now," Rooney said.
Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox, however, raised some red flags to any potential anti-loitering ordinance, saying there would likely be constitutionality and enforcement issues.
"There are so many levels to this," he said Wednesday. "Trying to figure out what's right and wrong, what's problematic or not problematic ... it's a very difficult situation to handle and control in a fair manner."
Fox was hesitant to comment further on a potential ordinance without first seeing what would be proposed, but said that if local businesses are open, there would continue to be some difficulties with dispersing crowds.
"We know groups of kids are hang out there... just for the purpose of hanging out," Fox said, adding that the large majority of them are "non-trouble making, law-abiding young adults."
Questions raised by Fox included:
- How do you discern who is a paying customer versus who is loitering?
- Would the late-night businesses in Boulder Run — , , and , primarily — be adversely affected by an anti-loitering ordinance?
- How many people constitute too large of a group?
- How long should groups or individuals be allowed to hang out before police step in?
Focusing on Boulder Run
Fox also pushed back on Rooney's point that the problem was mostly focused on Boulder Run. Groups were loitering in other parts of town, Fox asserted, just in smaller numbers.
By way of example, he pointed to the on Cedar Hill Avenue.
The people hanging out there have less of an immediate impact, he said Wednesday, because of the relative size and sprawl of location and the businesses there.
The groups of young adults hanging out at Boulder Run "seem to be growing in number," said Fox, a 35-year veteran of the Wyckoff Police Department. "But, probably in part because it's a bigger place than it was years ago and there are different businesses that attract young adults."
"Wyckoff has had a couple of incidents that have been press worthy of late, but we're not a town that's under siege," said Committeeman Rooney. "We had some stupid kids that have made some dumb, dumb decisions and the rest of the community is safe and is doing well."
The intent of any potential ordinance would be to give the township's "already effective" police department any additional resources that they need to combat this particular issue, Rooney said.
In addition to the incidents at Boulder Run, Wyckoff Police with the vicious beating of a 19-year-old Ridgewood man at .
Violent Crime is a Regional Concern
"I think the police department has been effectively dealing with the spate of incidents in the recent weeks," DePhillips added. "There's not a crime wave underway in Wyckoff despite the attention these incidents have received in the press."
DePhillips said the issue needs to be put into perspective and said the incidents are part of a larger regional issue, and not unique to Wyckoff.
"In Wyckoff, particularly, and Franklin Lakes and Fair Lawn and Oakland, it's a regional issue by nature of Route 4, Route 208, [and Interstate] 287," DePhillips said, adding that an analysis of the police activity here would show that "more than 90 percent, if not more than 95 percent, of those perpetrating crimes in our community do not reside here."
DePhillips asked Township Attorney Robert Landel to research the legality and precedent of the issue and examples of how other towns have dealt with similar ordinances in the past.
Landel's findings would be reported back to the Public Policy Subcommittee for discussion at their next meeting and likely brought back to the full committee for further discussion at a subsequent public meeting, the mayor said.
DePhillips, Landel, Committeeman Rudy Boonstra and Township Administrator Bob Shannon sit on the Public Policy Subcommittee.
DePhillips said he and Committeeman Doug Christie had scheduled a September meeting with the shopping center's owner Bryan Hekemian "about other issues related to Boulder Run" and would add their concerns over loitering to the agenda.
Committeeman Brian Scanlan stressed that the issue was an important one.
"When there is this sort of activity it diverts our police from other important activities and we certainly don't have an overstaffed police department," Scanlan said. "Someone could get seriously hurt or even killed there, the way things are going."
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