NJ Legislators Intro Bill Package Targeting Flash Mobs, ‘Public Brawls’ Amid Disruptions to Community Events


After hundreds of young people violently crashed public gatherings from Wildwood to Pennsauken, lawmakers are looking for new mechanisms to crack down on offenders. Police still don’t know much about the root of the disturbances.

By Matt Skoufalos | June 27, 2024

Lawmakers meet in Gloucester Township to announce a bill package aimed at combating public brawling. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

On June 1, the 40th annual Gloucester Township Day celebration was derailed by a group of some 500 teens fighting with one another, police, and other festival attendees at Veterans Park.

The disruption, which led to more than 20 arrests, followed similar incidents that broke out in Ocean City and Wildwood over Memorial Day weekend, and was itself followed by a comparable encounter in Pennsauken that curtailed that township’s summer kickoff party just eight days later.

On Thursday, state and local lawmakers returned to Veterans Park in Gloucester Township to introduce a package of bills intended to curb what they described as public brawling and behavior disrupting large community gatherings.

“Five hundred people converged on this park for the sole purpose of creating mayhem and violence,” New Jersey State Senator Paul Moriarty (D, NJ-04) said.

“A mob scene out of control destroyed a wonderful event,” Moriarty said. “This kind of flash mob mayhem cannot go unchecked.”

In response, Moriarty and his Fourth District legislative colleagues, New Jersey Assemblymen Dan Hutchison (D) and Cody Miller (D), have introduced a trio of bills that they hope will deter any subsequent disorderly behavior by implicating parents in the behavior of their children in such incidents.

“The pillar of a community is public safety,” said Hutchison, the primary sponsor of two of the bills (A-4651 and A-4652). “Disruptive and dangerous behavior at large-scale community events will not be tolerated in South Jersey.”

“We are committed to making sure these events happen,” said Miller, the primary sponsor of the third bill (A-4653).


From left: NJ 4th Dist. State Senator Paul Moriarty, Assm. Cody Miller, Assm. Dan Hutchison. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Proposed new rules tie parents to their kids’ behaviors

A-4651 would hold the parent or guardian of a juvenile convicted of delinquency resulting in property damage guilty of “willful or wanton disregard in the exercise of the supervision and control of the conduct of the juvenile” to the tune of a $1,000 civil fine.

If that same juvenile is convicted of inciting a public brawl, their parent or guardian could also be convicted of a petty disorderly persons offense, or a third-degree disorderly persons offense if the juvenile is convicted of inciting subsequent public brawls.

Those charges could come with a six-month imprisonment sentence, a $1,000 fine, or both.

A-4652 would codify the offense of inciting a public brawl as a crime of the fourth degree under NJS 2C:33-1, defined as “acting with purpose to organize or promote a group of four or more other persons to engage in a course of disorderly conduct.”

Such conduct includes committing or facilitating the commission of a crime, preventing or coercing official action, or using or planning to use a firearm or other deadly weapon.

A fourth-degree crime is punishable by as many as 18 months in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.

The same bill would further criminalize behaviors like concealing one’s identity during disorderly conduct to hinder prosecution or avoid apprehension, and disturbing a public gathering in such a fashion as disorderly persons offenses.

Finally, A-4653 would create a directive within the Office of the Attorney General to add training and resources for local law enforcement in dealing with flash mobs, pop-up parties of 50 or more people, or other large-scale disturbances to public events.

That training would include best practices in crowd management, coordination and resource-sharing among neighboring law enforcement agencies, monitoring and responding to social media activity around large-scale gatherings, and in ensuring the safety of people during a flash mob or gathering of 500 or more people.

The bill would also direct the attorney general to provide law enforcement with social media monitoring tools, mobile command units, personnel support, and a process for requesting immediate support during a flash mob or pop-up party.

“To any of the young people who choose to engage in the events we’ve seen here… you’re putting families in danger,” Hutchison said.

Gloucester Township Mayor David Mayer (left) and Police Chief David Harkins. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Locally, the Gloucester Township municipal government has amended its curfew ordinance to include fines of $1,000 and 90 days of community service for juveniles that violate curfew as well as for their parents, Mayor David Mayer said.

That curfew governs unaccompanied minors from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday, with exceptions for those commuting to and from work.

Mayer described the legislative efforts as targeting “an epidemic of destruction in the state of New Jersey” led by “unruly, undisciplined, unparented juveniles.

When asked whether the proposed measures had considered that the juvenile offenders in question might not come from stable households with parents to punish for their children’s behavior, Hutchison replied, “There has to be consequences.”

Miller added that he believes it’s “important for children to have a strong family structure at home,” and to learn “that actions have consequences.”

He suggested that lawmakers “partner with community support organizations to provide resources for children who don’t have that support structure at home to get the resources and mentorship they need.”

Gloucester Township Police Chief David Harkins described his frustration with the “lack of discipline and complete disrespect for law and order” that those arrested at Gloucester Township Day demonstrated.

“Sometimes kids are being kids,” Harkins said. “That’s not what we saw that night.”

Police vehicles closed off a block of Westfield Avenue in Pennsauken after droves of young people swarmed the township Summer Kickoff. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Shifting tactics

In a separate interview, Harkins told NJ Pen that investigators have struggled to identify what, if anything, specific is motivating these mass assemblies of young people.

The incidents are coordinated through social media, leveraging coded language and privacy settings that make tracking them difficult.

They also may escalate faster than authorities can sometimes respond, and much like swatting crimes, monopolize law enforcement resources

“Even if we see that people who want to cause problems are coming, or see it trending, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it other than cancel the event or postpone the event,” Harkins said.

In the detective work that followed the Gloucester Township Day brawl, Harkins said police have been able to identify more than 20 suspects through reviews of officer bodycam footage and surveillance.

“It was very clear to us that they had this anti-police sentiment,” he said. “They would curse at us and call us names. It seems to be that they’re violence-focused.

“It’s not just kids being kids,” Harkins said. “There were assaults happening right in front of police officers.

“Additional charges were added that night to offenders who refused to disperse, and we upped the charges when we matched them to someone they kicked in the head.”

In Gloucester Township, which has made strides in deterring frequent offenders through its third-gear policing initiative, Harkins said officers noted that many of those charged were unfamiliar to them.

Of a dozen juveniles arrested on Gloucester Township Day, only one was a local teen; the others hailed from Winslow, Pine Hill, Laurel Springs, Camden City, and Cherry Hill.

“Our programs are very effective at keeping kids out of the juvenile justice system for the right reasons,” Harkins said.

“Part of the success is that we recognize who we have to engage with and who we run into regularly in our town, but everything that I see is a larger thing going on.”

In Pennsauken, Police Chief Phil Olivo doubled security at the township Summer Kickoff party based on what had occurred in Gloucester Township the week before. Nevertheless, organizers were forced to shut down the event before its fireworks finale due to “unruly crowds.”

Carload upon carload of youths were dropped off in the area, and began to organize themselves at the perimeter of the event as night fell, officials said. Township officials caught wind of early disruptions to nearby businesses, saw objects being thrown blindly into the crowd, and sent the crowd home.

As early disturbances broke out, 85 police from 40 different departments rallied to the scene, and things calmed down after that. In all, six people were arrested — two juveniles and four adults, none older than 20 — at least half of whom were Pennsauken locals.

“Besides that we had to cancel it, no one was injured,” Olivo said. “That’s a win. It was bad that it happened, but we identified it, shut it down before it got too bad, and we had mutual aid come in, which was wonderful.”

The success of that response was informed by the events of Gloucester Township Day; in a bit of symmetry, Gloucester Township also sent its police resources to Pennsauken to reinforce the safe dismissal of the event.

“We had the signs of problems,” Olivo said. “We were able to learn from what happened in the past. We know what to look for, and it’s not going to be tolerated.”

Police from multiple jurisdictions responded to unruly crowds at the Pennsauken Summer Kickoff. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

As law enforcement across the region continues to strategize around this novel concern, both chiefs believe that communities should be undeterred in continuing to present safe, large-scale gatherings.

“We’re not cancelling everything, but we’re re-evaluating how we’re doing it, and we’re definitely going to have more security out there,” Olivo said.

“We can’t give everything up and have people living in fear, and just let the bad guys win,” he said. “That’s not the way to live.”

Harkins was similarly resolute.

“We can’t let these kinds of events define who we are,” he said. “It makes us wonder, is there something organizing this, or what’s behind it?

“We need to find out. We’re going to do everything we can to try to find out.”

The New Jersey state legislative bodies will head to recess soon, meaning the proposed bills won’t make it out of committee for a vote before the fall session at the earliest.

In the meantime, Moriarty, who is vice chair of the state Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, said he hopes their introduction will function as a deterrent against potential future violence.

“We can legislate, pass laws, we can fine kids,” Moriarty added. “Parents need to know what their children are up to.”

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