Two months after Newark passed the controversial unruly gathering ordinance, police gave out the first two citations under the new law.
The violations came within a half hour of each other on Saturday afternoon, as University of Delaware students marked one of the final weekends before the end of the school year.
The first incident came around 4:30 p.m. when police received a complaint for noise on Benny Street, according to Lt. Andrew Rubin, a spokesman for the Newark Police Department.
Officers arrived to find more than 300 people partying in the backyard. Loud music was playing, beers cans and other litter filled the yard, some partygoers were trespassing on a neighbor’s property, and other guests were spilling out into the street, blocking traffic, Rubin said.
The two people responsible for the party, who police did not publicly identify, were cited for an unruly gathering and also charged with a noise violation, disorderly premise and having a gathering of more than 150 people without a permit.
Eleven minutes later, police were dispatched to Kershaw Street, where neighbors had also complained of noise.
Officers found approximately 200 partygoers, loud music, people yelling and screaming, litter all over the yard and two people urinating in the backyard, Rubin said.
One person was cited for an unruly gathering and also charged with a noise violation, disorderly premise and having a gathering of more than 150 people without a permit.
City council passed the unruly gathering law in March in response to Old Newark residents’ complaints about the large gatherings in their neighborhood they’ve come to refer to as “super parties.”
The ordinance created a new offense called unruly gathering, which will be triggered when police observe three or more nuisance behaviors at a residence where four or more people have gathered. Those offenses include minors consuming alcohol, noise, disorderly premises, people on the roof, more than 150 people present without a permit, obstruction of public rights-of-way, public drunkenness, fights, criminal mischief, public urination, littering, drug use, trespassing on neighboring property and any other conduct that “threatens the health, safety, good and quiet order of the city.”
The penalty for a first offense will be a $500 fine and 20 hours of community service, a second offense will be $1,000 and 32 hours, a third offense will be $1,500 and 48 hours, and a fourth offense will be $2,000 and 60 hours.
The passage of the law prompted an immediate backlash from students, thousands of whom signed a petition claiming the crackdown on partying will “ruin our school.” Many repeated the false claim – fueled by misleading social media posts and sensationalized headlines – that the law empowers police to issue a citation for any gathering of four or more people.
“This didn’t prohibit conduct that wasn’t already prohibited,” Rubin noted. “It just added another penalty when you have multiple behaviors at once.”
Rubin said it’s too soon to tell if the law has had a deterrent effect, but Amy Roe, an Old Newark resident who led the push for the ordinance, said she and her neighbors noticed a “huge and immediate” effect.
“There’s been a big decrease in problem parties. Everybody’s talking about it,” Roe said. “It’s been a real blessing.”
Supporters of the law have said the mandatory community service requirement is an important part of the law because students often pool their money or collect money at the door of a party in order to pay fines.
Roe predicted that when students find out the violators are sentenced to community service, the deterrent effect will grow.
“Hopefully word will spread,” Roe said.