East Orange rolls out Safe Summer Initiative, juvenile curfew

By Andy Milone

Photo by Andy Milone

EAST ORANGE — Have a great summer.

Kids write the abbreviation “HAGS” in yearbooks to wish their fellow students well heading into the warmer months representative of freedom from the classroom. But East Orange city officials are still looking to add another adjective.


They again rolled out the Safe Summer Initiative the last day of school on June 21. On the list of objectives at the forefront until Sept. 2 is the heavier enforcement of the city’s juvenile curfew ordinance – what’s upheld year-round and been in place since 1997.

No minor under the age of 17 may be in a public place between 11 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. – a safety tactic of some communities in New Jersey. West Orange, Orange and Irvington are among those with a curfew. One exception to the rule is an instance when a child is accompanied by a parent, relative or legal guardian.

There are many examples of community policing and enforcement efforts the department is highlighting as part of the Safe Summer Initiative to reduce havoc and strengthen relationships.

The curfew has yielded a “noticeable” drop in juvenile crime in East Orange, according to law enforcement.

“I think we’ve been successful,” said Lt. Leo Fileu. “It’s been like one tool in the tool belt.”

One may ask the question though: Why heavier enforcement of the curfew when school is out?

Police Chief Phyllis Bindi says during the school year parents assist with enforcement by asking their child to go to bed early when oftentimes class is the next day in the morning.

During the summer, that expectation may disappear and now law enforcement is asking everyone to play a part in keeping kids off the street and away from “hotspots” like parks and fast food restaurants in the late night and early morning hours.

“It really allows us to ensure their safety,” said Bindi. “They are the future of this city and world.”

“If we decide to do something for the safety of others, it’s probably saving someone from going to jail or having a record.”

Enforcement must be accompanied by effective communication. One example is handing out flyers to businesses.

“We always make sure the public knows what we are doing,” Bindi said. “We don’t just do something.”

The chief said officers have given out somewhere in the ballpark of 20 to 30 warnings to parents and the children in a given summer. About half lead to summons – stipulated in the ordinance as up to 50 hours of community service or up to a $1,000 fine per offense. A court judge has the final say, she said.

Citations are not the objective though in East Orange. The hope is community cooperation and buy-in for a common goal.

“The number is low because our collaboration leads to our success,” Bindi said.

“We ensure there are enough educational and positive encounters between kids and their families with police throughout the summer,” she added.

A curfew has support from several people with ties to the community. However, more police presence and community policing has solicited mixed feelings in an area not believed to be overrun with crime in 2024.

The curfew is “a good thing” if enforced, said Maria Torres, now of Bloomfield after a couple months ago relocating from East Orange. She lived there for 18 years and pointed out how “there’s always news about kids” when out and about on their own.

Torres is a bus driver in a nearby community and has helped at a convenience store on the edge of town since the move. Around the store has been “very quiet,” she noted, a contrast to more than decade ago when the mother wouldn’t let her daughter walk to school.

“East Orange has changed a lot,” she said. “At the time, we were scared and when we had a daughter in school, we’d drive her to school.”

“It was crazy,” she added.

Cynthia Anderson has lived in East Orange for a little more than a year after having lived in Brooklyn. She’s supportive of exploring any safety initiative — whether that be a curfew or some form of community policing to keep kids away from negative influences.

But Anderson looks at every possibility through an “urban” lens.

“My worry is, unfortunately, people take power and abuse it,” she said. “That’s what happened with the NYPD. I don’t know about here, but they’d scream, curse and push a child.”

Oftentimes, the incident involves people of color, said Anderson, who too says the area of town where she lives is uneventful.

Heroline Samuels, of Brooklyn, said the curfew is “reasonable” while visiting his adult son in East Orange.

“I’m a dad and I didn’t let my kids out after 10 p.m.,” he said as part of the effort to avoid the “bad influences.”

The Public Safety Department will host block parties, park events, basketball games, fitness classes and mentoring programs as well as through the Police Explorers Program and Safe Haven P.A.L. Program, according to a press release announcing the Safe Summer Initiative.

The initiative – which Bindi says won’t require any more manpower costs as resources are described in the press release as being “deployed strategically” – generally includes increased police presence, community engagements, and proactive quality of life enforcement.

More specifically, that means walking posts, mobile patrols, business inspections, road safety checkpoints and crime prevention operations. Officers will be cracking down too on speeding, jaywalking and parking offenses too. To report suspicious activity, call the EOPD TIPSLine at 973-266-5041. In the case of an emergency, call 9-1-1.
J. Jamal Pearson, recreation and cultural affairs director, said in the press release that he and his team have organized a full slate of activities to keep children and families active and engaged in its parks, pools and playgrounds.

In addition to a variety of summer camps and sports clinics, Pearson said there will be special events happening every week July through August, including main annual events such as the weekly “Soul in the City” music series, the Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular, Jazz at the Plaza, the Mayor’s Annual Cookout, East Orange MACFest, National Night Out and the Summer Jam House Music Festival.

“We want them to feel like they can call upon us because we’re one community like a family,” said Bindi.