LONG BRANCH — Police arrested more than a dozen people Saturday evening after nearly 5,000 revelers descended on this oceanfront city, prompting a massive police response and an overnight curfew.

The chaos, a repeat of what happened here last summer, will result in city officials developing a plan to address pop-up parties that overwhelm local services. City Public Safety Director Domingos Saldida said the goal would be to issue a plan that other shore communities could also implement.

Videos shared online by residents and visitors show police in tactical gear trying to control and disperse the crowd after dark.

Officials said those arrested face misdemeanor charges stemming from fighting as well as vandalizing a police vehicle. The suspects were "all out-of-towners," many of them from Essex County, Saldida said.

Prosecutors said Sunday morning that Department of Corrections officers deployed disorientation devices, specifically a single flash-bang as well as smoke, "in limited situations in response to fights taking place and bottles and rocks being thrown where the crowd would not disperse."

No injuries other than from people engaged in fighting have been reported. Saldida said there were no reports of property damage except for a radio car that was stomped. Saldida said police have made one arrest in connection to the vandalism of the car, which may result in further arrests.

Pop-up party menace

While overcrowding at the Jersey Shore, particularly at popular destinations such as Seaside Heights, Point Pleasant and Belmar, has been a concern for years, Saldida said social media has exacerbated it, resulting in potentially dangerous and uncontrollable crowds.

"When masses show up by NJ Transit and 5,000 people take over Pier Village, it creates a very difficult situation to handle," Saldida said. "I believe law enforcement in Monmouth County did an exceptional job."

Long Branch is a city of 30,700 year-round residents. One of its main attractions, aside from the ocean beach, is the Pier Village development of residents, retail stores and restaurants.

Authorities believe that the crowds on Saturday were the result of a celebration that was promoted on social media. A promotional post on Instagram called on people to bring their own liquor and weed to the Long Branch beach starting at noon on Sunday.

This will be the first summer in New Jersey after cannabis regulators greenlighted the sale of recreational marijuana.

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Curfew and arrests

The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office on Sunday morning said five adults and four juvenile arrests stemming from fighting. Saldida said an additional six adults were also arrested.

Last June, a party promoted online drew thousands of teens and young adults to Long Branch, resulting in a massive police response. The event also resulted in false rumors about rioting.

This weekend, officials said city police sent out a call for help at about 5 p.m. Neighboring police departments, the Monmouth County Sheriff's Office, the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office and the State Police responded to the area.

The city took to social media to announce a curfew from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. Sunday. The curfew prohibited anyone from "using, standing, sitting, traveling or being present on any public street or in any public place."

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Law enforcement officials said most people left peacefully after the curfew was announced. But the sight of police in tactical gear and the sound of a flash-bang accompanied by smoke — akin to the scenes of civil unrest that unfolded across the country in 2020 — was unnerving to some.

"Why? Because there is a crowd of people? This needs to stop. It’s ridiculous," one commenter said on the Long Branch Police Department's Facebook page. "There should be no curfew pressed on the public. Public safety is a well-known term to use to impose restrictions that are biased."

"Just say it for what it was," one commenter said on Twitter in response to the news. "It was too many young folk congregating & having fun with good vibes to the municipality's liking and they decided to go in and break it up by inciting legal chaos, like usual."

Saldida defended the police response, saying officers used their training to move people who had "decided not to be moved." He said there were no injuries resulting from the police action.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey "commended" law enforcement agencies and municipal officials for taking action.

“Responding agencies worked in unison to create a swift, professional, and tactical response to what was evolving as a dangerous situation," Linskey said in a written statement Sunday morning. "We appreciate the efforts of Long Branch City Officials issuing tonight’s curfew in response to the public safety situation."

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Special town hall this Thursday

The chaos in Long Branch this year comes as New Jersey begins its first summer after greenlighting the sale of recreational marijuana.

New Jersey 101.5 will broadcast a special townhall at 7 p.m. Thursday to discuss what New Jersey can expect this summer at the shore.

The program, which will be carried on Facebook Live, will include tourism officials, local mayors, law enforcement and travel experts.

Sergio Bichao is the digital managing editor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com

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