Nearly 50 people were detained and a 20-year-old arrested on an unrelated charge in connection with a pop-up party advertised on social media that had been expected to draw as many as 500 to a vacant commercial property in Passaic County.
New Jersey State Police alerted local officials in Wayne Township about a pop-up party being advised on social media that was scheduled to happen in the township Saturday night, authorities say. The event was heavily promoted online and had been planned for a nine-story property next to the Willowbrook Mall, police said.
Cops set up surveillance even before the party was scheduled to start and saw multiple people illegally enter the building through doors that had previously been forced open, according to Wayne police.
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Eventually, officials determined that too many people were inside the building for the party to operate safely and told police to move in to disperse the crowd before it got out of control, Wayne officials said.
In total, 47 people who had entered the building were detained. Police said they expect to charge them with burglary or criminal mischief for their involvement with the party. A 20-year-old East Orange man who was found to be wanted on an outstanding robbery charge was also taken into custody.
No injuries were reported but the building sustained damage and cops reported multiple spray-painted directional signs for party-goers. Directions were scribbled to the "party floor" and corner office suites were turned into private party rooms.
Wayne Police Chief Jack McNiff said the current situation regarding the pop-up parties seems to be like a statewide game of whack-a-mole. The building was later boarded up and Wayne cops said they'd take precautions against more parties.
"If you are one of the organizers for this party, if you are one of the people taking money online for tickets to this party and organizing it, my suggestion is you turn yourself into the Wayne Police Department today, because if not you can expect a knock on your door from a Wayne Police detective in the very near future," McNiff said.
The Wayne party is just the latest mass pop-up event to trigger a major law enforcement response. Officials say social media promotion spreads like wildfire, with teens (and their parents) in Wayne said the online party invites come all the time.
"It’s kind of dangerous honestly, I feel like weird creepy people could be there," said Isabella Bassora.
Another teen, Serenity Pagano, said that the kids don't care about the risks — they just want a place to have fun.
"I’m not going to sit here and lie and say it’s dangerous. These kids don’t care whether it is in that building or another down the street they want to go somewhere and party and have fun," Pagano said.
McNiff said there's a way to deter more parties from popping up in the future: lay down the law.
"I think the best way that Wayne Township can do it and send a message to the public that wants to come here and be disruptive — guess what, we are not tolerating it and we are going to charge you criminally. We’re going to throw the book at you," he said.
Law enforcement officials at a number of other towns in New Jersey, especially along the Jersey Shore, have stepped up efforts to contain the chaos in recent weeks.
Toms River said last week it would bring back its beach curfew for minors in all its barrier island communities for the rest of the summer through September. That came after an Ortley Beach pop-up party saw a few hundred kids gather and another gathering around a Route 35 Wawa, Toms River Mayor Mo Hill said.
Other pop-ups have drawn raucous crowds to spots from Normandy Beach's Ocean Terrace to Point Pleasant Beach, Brick and Long Branch.
As one woman who lives in one of the affected communities said, "You see just wild kids, they go from one street to the next. Police chase them off one street, they go to the next street, it’s a real problem."
Residents said many of the kids are coming from the mainland by ride-hail companies. Most carry backpacks and often leave messes on yards, they say.
"These kids all have backpacks and you know nothing in that is legal," one area resident said. "They urinate on people’s yards and they leave their trash all over, and they curse like you cannot even imagine....worse than a sailor."
Police have said the crowds of kids are bigger this year with more underage drinking, more pot smoking and more fighting compared to 2021.
“It's just become a whole other set of riff-raff that we've never seen before, said business owner and City Council member Jody Levchuk.
Complaints about unruly teens intensified in many Jersey Shore communities after state laws legalizing recreational marijuana for adults significantly limited police enforcement power when dealing with underage drinking and pot possession.