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Anti-Loitering Law in Works for Wyckoff

Township officials are investigating an ordinance to help cops combat crowds that gather at Boulder Run, but Wyckoff's police chief says anti-loitering laws raise enforcement and constitutionality concerns

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 .

The late-night beating and subsequent arrests garnered national attention for Wyckoff due, in part, to the "huge grin" displayed in township resident Marguax Tocci's booking photo. 


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."


Next Steps

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."

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Sean Sweeney August 22, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Instead of an ordinance, why don't we just have a police officer on foot patrol at Boulder Run during times of the day/evening when loitering is most apt to occur. Not saying we add another officer to any particular shift just use one of the officers on a particular shift and the others can patrol town via cars as they do now. This would deter bad incidents from happening, the officers can get some exercise and the town can save money on gas as that particular police car won't be riding around town wasting gas.
John Briggs August 22, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Putting in an ordinance that bans loitering is only going to lead to lawyers litigating what is "loitering" in the Courts and whether outlawing it is constitutional. The only people who win are the lawyers who are licking their chops right now thinking about the settlements they are going to get when they sue the town.
E J Fritz August 22, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Or have Boulder Run hire a security force like other large shopping areas. The police station is a stone's throw away.
JZ August 22, 2012 at 07:10 PM
I'm a lawyer, I live in Wyckoff and I'm not licking my chops. I would just like to the undesireables who find it necessary to hang out to the wee hours in Boulder Run to just go home. I say go for the loitering ordinance and enforce it to the fullest extent. It would not be difficult to draft a loitering ordinacne which is constitutional and could easily withstand scrutiny.
Sean Sweeney August 22, 2012 at 08:06 PM
One of the main reasons for loitering is that Boulder Run has gotten so big which brings more people and possible trouble along with it. Like we need another huge food store next to our current huge food store as much as we need another bank in this town....that will only bring more undesireables into town.
Haakon Jepsen August 22, 2012 at 09:05 PM
One simple (and cheap) solution would be to pipe classical music outside some of establishments in Boulder Run. This has been very effective in many other towns and cities as a deterrent for loitering. Check it out -> http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2011/04/classical-music-still-works-at-dispersing-loitering-teens-.html
Sean Sweeney August 22, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Classical music worked with King Kong.
Concerned August 22, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Maybe a silly statement but kids do need to hang out somewhere to be social. I am for using the ordinance to limit late night gatherings but where are they to hang during a a weekend day if kicked out of Boulder Run? You must know they will go somewhere else such as the schools, memorial field etc and you will then have the same problem somewhere else. We need to address the problem first. It is not practical for a parents to have a large group at the house. This all came up because of a couple recent of incidents and although very troubling, are we punishing the group for the actions of a few? I would hate to see another incident so these discussions are very good. Here is a fairly simple solutions (I think) and not very costly. Cameras!!! You can get a set of like a 16 high resolution cameras (15 are water proof) from Costco for $799 with the machine to constantly record all cameras at once. There would be some installation costs but maybe the mall in lieu of a security guard would do this for Wyckoff. Not only that, but they can be monitored by a computer or iPhone with proper security (like at the Police Department). That would be a deterrent I would think. Sorry for spelling errors etc.. long day!
Joseph M. Gerace (Editor) August 23, 2012 at 12:29 AM
I thought you were joking when I first read your comment. Great stuff.
Leaving August 23, 2012 at 12:51 AM
So, when the "undesirable" kids are enjoying the classical music (perhaps dancing?), the cameras can record it? This discussion is ridiculous! Parents, wake up and take responsibility for your children; they are still CHILDREN after all.
Concerned August 23, 2012 at 04:29 AM
There we go. "leaving" just solved everyone's problems. OR does it really only address the couple of kids that caused trouble. If you think this discussion is ridiculous, go somewhere else. I don't agree with some of the comments but putting down people and their ideas is childish (how ironic that you are acting childish)
Leaving August 23, 2012 at 10:18 AM
@Concerned; if you read my post I DID solve the problem. You are just choosing to continue to pass off the responsibility for raising your children onto others. Why should the general public need to "monitor" children with computers or an iPhone when they need to be "monitored" by their parents? If you don't want the responsibility, don't have children. It's not a game. I am allowed to think this discussion is ridiculous. Just because you don't agree doesn't mean I can't be on here. Your statements say a lot about you.
Janet August 23, 2012 at 11:33 AM
Kids should hang out at their home or a friends home with supervision, until they own or rent their own hangout.
susan August 23, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Isn't Boulder Run privately owned? They would be tresspassing after hours... IF hours are posted. Anti loitering laws would apply to public property. While not his fault, the property owner should take steps to protect himself and his tenants before something bad happens. Teens need a place to gether. Let's do something positive about that!
Richard Sorce August 23, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Classical Music!!! Great idea; then I and all my colleagues would be patronizing Boulder Run businesses! R.Sorce Prof. of Music
J.C. Lee August 28, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Mr. Cantilian I suggest you review State of NJ v. Crawley 90 N.J. 241 (1982) - N.J.S. 2C:33-1 to -14 "preempts" any municipal ordinance which prohibits general loitering. Consequently the NJ supreme court held that local loitering ordinances may not be enforced. My guess is Chief Fox is well aware of this. With that said, what are the owners of Boulder Run doing about this problem? Perhaps they need to provide a security patrol as rather then the taxpayers of Wyckoff? Most shopping malls have security forces that seem to deal with these problems rather well.

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