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Township Unveils Law to Curb Public Disturbances

The ordinance proposed Tuesday would ban "making or uttering of unsolicited remarks of an offensive, abusive, profane, disgusting or insulting nature."

An ordinance introduced Tuesday night by the Wyckoff Township Committee proposes to ban "loud, unnecessary or unusual noise," disturbances, fighting, and obstruction of free passage, both on public and semi-private property.

"Essentially this is an ordinance that is designed to prevent disturbances of the peace," Mayor Chris DePhillips said. "It was surprising to me that heretofore we had not had a disturbing of the peace-type ordinance in our code."

Committeeman Kevin Rooney said that the creation of the ordinance stemmed "not only from the two incidents that occurred in Boulder Run over the summer," but that there had been an "ongoing concern with quite a bit of out of town juveniles congregating."

He called the proposal a "great start" to solving the problem.

The township officials stressed that the proposal doesn't just apply to Boulder Run, but focused much of the discussion Tuesday night on the Franklin Avenue property.

The township had tried to schedule a meeting with Boulder Run owner Bryan Hekemian with no luck,  DePhillips said. According to Committeeman Doug Christie, Hekemian is not currently aware of the proposed ordinance.

When the committee initially floated its intention to draft the anti-loitering ordinance in August, Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox raised concerns centered on constitutionality and enforcement issues. 

DePhillips, however, said that on Tuesday Fox had "reiterated his support for the ordinance." 

"There are other mechanisms available to the chief to control what we believe is objectionable behavior in Boulder Run and other places — that being the criminal code," DePhillips said. "But this provides one additional tool to law enforcement to control that type of behavior." 

DePhillips said Fox provided him with police reports from this year that detailed verbal disputes, intoxicated persons, reckless driving, skateboarding and "other types of activity that [are] dangerous that you would not expect in a place where people are supposedly going in to shop, or to eat, or to get a cup of coffee, and then returning to their cars to leave."

Committeeman Brian Scanlan, who supports the ordinance, later raised the question of constitutionality again with Township Attorney Rob Landel, who responded that "peace and good order" laws exist in other towns.

"While it's not a traditional loitering ordinance, which the courts have struck down because of vagueness, I think this goes a little more into specifics and is a little more into a disorderly person ordinance," Landel said.

The ordinance, which is attached to this story, defines public places then goes on to detail the banned actions:

A. The following conduct in or about public places shall be prohibited:

a. Creating or causing to be created a breach of the peace.

b. Creating or causing to be created any disturbance or annoyance to the comfort and repose of any person.

c. Causing and/or maintaining any obstruction which prohibits the free passage of vehicular or pedestrian traffic on any street, alley, sidewalk or public place as well as any parking area or area appurtenant to any commercial establishment, including stores and shopping centers.

d. Making or uttering of unsolicited remarks of an offensive, abusive, profane, disgusting or insulting nature or which are calculated to annoy or disturb the person to whom they are made, in any public place as defined in §144-1.

e. Fighting or other conduct disruptive to the public peace.

f. Creating, continuing, causing or allowing to be made any loud, unnecessary or unusual noise or any noise which either annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others.

B. It shall be unlawful for any owner, lessee, tenant, occupant and/or person in charge of any commercial property to cause, permit or allow any conduct of persons and/or business invitees on such commercial property, which is in violation of the Chapter.

The committee unanimously supported the introduction of the ordinance. 

The proposed law will be discussed at the next Wyckoff Township Committee meeting on Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m., according to Township Administrator Bob Shannon.

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.

JP October 04, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Anyone want to provide the Wyckoff committee with a copy of the First Amendment. "D" would never hold up in a court of law as constitutional. Who's to judge what's "offensive" or "insulting" speech? Them?
J.C. Lee October 04, 2012 at 03:45 AM
While "peace and good order" laws exist in other towns, are they used? How many people are actually charged with breaking those laws and have they been convicted in court? This proposed ordinance sound very vague and Constitutionally questionable.
Marc D October 04, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Years back I worked my way through graduate school managing a conveyance store on the night shift where we had many of the problems with loiters both teens and older homeless. The town where the store was located had all of the “peace and good order” and anti-loitering ordinances. They were worthless and unenforceable. I learned that the loitering ordinance still on the books was declared unconstitutional and could not be enforced. I also found out that people who violate ordinances commit an “offense” not a “crime” and that the police can only charge someone with an offense if the officer actually witnesses it. I also found out the my store was private property and if I banned someone from the store who refused to comply that I would have to sign a trespassing complaint myself that the police could not. My employer would not permit me to sign complaints because of problems they had with the ACLU at another store location. Perhaps it is time for parents to step in and start policing what their kids are doing instead of turning storekeepers and the police into babysitters.
Q October 04, 2012 at 03:55 PM
The Township Committee should just scrap the whole idea of the ordinance and cancel the meeting to discuss it. Already too much time wasted. It's mostly unenforceable except for a, c and e, which should already be something the police could arrest or ticket people for without the introduction of a new ordinance.
JP October 04, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Has anyone even bothered to ask WHY these kids are hanging out here and why exactly it's bothering some people? Perhaps if people understood the attraction, they could use incentive to prevent it naturally. You'll get better results with honey then with vinegar in some cases.

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