Dewey tackles illegal juvenile activity

Curfew violation fine for minors upped to $300; police patrols increased
August 1, 2023

An unusual amount of illegal juvenile activity in Dewey Beach recently has led town leaders to take action, including increasing the curfew violation fine, with more changes yet to come.

At the July 21 commissioners meeting, Town Manager Bill Zolper said the curfew for minors is 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and midnight Friday and Saturday.

The town saw a huge number of minors in town, he said, not just during June Bug week but also from June 30 to July 4, when property damage was reported, a juvenile passed out and arrests were made. The fine for violating curfew is $100, Zolper said, introducing a proposed ordinance to up the fine to $300.

The change is not about making money, he said, but showing teens they can get fined $300 gets their attention a lot more than $100. Officers will first issue warnings, he said.

“The town is not here to babysit these teenagers,” Zolper said. “We don’t have the ability to babysit them. As you heard from the chief, she doesn’t have the manpower, the personpower, at this time to even have her police department function as she thinks it should, let alone [to monitor] hundreds of teens that were roaming around, especially on those nights in question.”

Police Chief Constance Speake described the incidents as complete chaos. Officers were chasing teens from parking lots, up and down the streets, and to the beach, she said, and the town received emails from residents about juvenile activity.

“They’re urinating on people’s property, they’re throwing up on people’s property, they’re having sex in people’s yards or on the beach, drinking alcohol, basically doing everything they shouldn’t be doing,” Speake said.

There is nothing for older teens to do in town at night, she said. Dewey doesn’t have a boardwalk with rides or games or lots of stores, she said. They can’t go to the bars, and business owners don’t want them loitering in the parking lots because they play-fight and are disrespectful.

“They weren’t listening to us,” Speake said. “We had several foot chases with several of them we arrested, and then when the parents arrived, they seemed to have an attitude with us about the fact that their children were stopped and pretty much felt like we were harassing them.”

In addition to the fine increase, Speake said she would also like to see the curfew start time change from midnight to 11 p.m. every day of the week. There’s no reason to allow juveniles out till midnight when the only thing they can do is play mini golf, she said. 

“And I can assure you, they’re not going there,” she said.

Juveniles were carrying backpacks with alcohol and were there to drink and get into trouble, she said. Posted signs would let them know there is a curfew in Dewey, she said, and the increased fine might get parents to take it more seriously. The curfew and fine would not apply to minors out with parents, she said.

Additionally, Speake said, some of the minors’ parents were in Wilmington or hard to reach, so the officer had to stay with them in the station and wait for their parents because they can’t put juveniles in cuffs or a cell.

Commissioner David Jasinski motioned to approve the ordinance increasing the fine to $300, and to change the effective curfew start time to 11 p.m. every night.

During public comment, former Commissioner David Moskowitz said via Zoom that commissioners couldn’t change the curfew time, because a vote for that change was not publicly noticed.

In person, Steve “Monty” Montgomery of The Starboard said he agreed with Speake and Zolper, and had never seen anything like it with kids over July Fourth. 

The message has got to get to parents that kids shouldn’t be on the streets, Montgomery said, suggesting town leaders involve Alcoholic Beverage Control and Drug Abuse Resistance Education officers to check backpacks or otherwise assist. 

Kids are learning about alcohol at younger ages, he said, and there is nothing for them to do in Dewey at night except walk in front of busy bars. Montgomery said he tells local parent friends that Dewey is not a place for kids after 11 p.m.

Referencing Moskowitz’s comment, Mayor Bill Stevens said he would rather err on the side of caution and vote for the fine increase then, and put the time change as a voting item for the August meeting. The amended motion passed unanimously. 

In related action, a proposed ordinance giving the police chief the authority to close the beach was dismissed, as commissioners said the chief has that power by virtue of the position. Stevens said the town will make changes to the charter in the off-season to make that authority clear.

Zolper said he proposed the ordinance due to large crowds of juveniles on the beach the evenings of June 30 to July 2. On July 2, he said, lifeguards working night patrols had to call police to help with the crowds.

A notice to residents and business owners issued July 7 by Speake and Lt. Cliff Dempsey detailed challenges faced due to an influx of minors and efforts to address them. 

The letter cited incidents of fighting, underage consumption of alcohol and drugs, trespassing and loitering, and stated many arrests were made and every parent was notified. Because of the overwhelming number of incidents and disruptive behavior, the letter stated, assistance was requested from outside agencies. 

The department will continue to secure additional resources during peak periods, the letter states, and will increase patrols during busy times, focusing on areas where juvenile activity has been present. The curfew will be enforced, the letter stated, and anyone under age 21 consuming or possessing alcohol will be issued a summons and fined $100.

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