Roselle Park Police Detective Richard Cocca was available Thursday night, October 23rd, at Borough Hall to get input from the residents of Bender Avenue and to provide information on the protocols that the Roselle Park Police Department (RPPD) plans to implement for what is commonly known as “Bender Avenue Halloween” in order to ensure the safety of trick-or-treaters. Council-At-Large and Mayoral Candidate Carl Hokanson was also in attendance as well as 2nd Ward Councilwoman Charlene Storey who is running for Council-At-Large. 1st Ward candidate Eugene Meola was in the audience.
What started years ago as a friendly and informal Halloween house decoration contest among neighbors in the Bender Avenue area of Roselle Park that attracted onlookers has grown into an event that brings in, according to Detective Cocca, between 3,000 – 5,000 people from all over the county, state, and even New York to town every October 31st. Detective Cocca added, “That number seems to be going up every year, not going down.”
Originally stating that the police would take a wait-and-see approach as they did last year to barricading Bender Avenue, resident Jeff Ceterko – who was in attendance – commented that previous to last year, barricades would automatically be put up at 3 p.m., with the exception of two years where Bender Avenue Halloween was canceled or postponed due to Superstorm Sandy and snow. He stated, “Last year was the first year that didn’t happen [and] things got out of control before the barricades went up.”
He recounted how cars were pulling onto Bender Avenue between 3 and 4 o’clock in order to park so they could take their families trick-or-treating. After 4:30 p.m., when the barricades went up, those people who parked would now want to leave, thereby causing a safety issue.
“It just seems senseless to me,” Mr. Ceterko said, “Senseless when we’ve done it one way year after year after year and it worked. The bottom line is that it worked.”
Mr. Ceterko cited children from the schools in town being dismissed at around 3 p.m. as the reason to have barricades go up at that time.
Detective Cocca stated that putting the barricades up automatically could be construed as advertising the event.
“You’re advertising it already,” Tim Bowen, the other Bender Avenue resident who attended the meeting, stated.
“Last year we tried to not to advertise,” concurred Mr. Ceterko, “[And] last year was the biggest ever on a weekday. I know by the amount of candy I give out.”
Councilman Hokanson remarked, “This is like [lighting of] the Christmas Tree in New York. Bender Avenue Halloween is known throughout the state.”
The idea was presented to have signs announcing the closing of the streets from 3 p.m. till 7 in the evening.
“That did work pretty well,” Detective Cocca responded, “That’s something we can certainly open back up again.”
Adding to the responsibilities of the police department, the RPPD Detective said, “We’re drawing a finer line because it gets down to [where] you have half the people who want it and half the people who don’t want it and you are impeding on people’s lives that may not want that but they still have the right to get out of their driveway and use a public street. You can’t stop them from not doing that. The town isn’t officially sponsoring this event so it’s not actually an event. Technically it’s a public street. We’re still responsible for it.”
A suggestion from years ago was repeated to request that the streets be blocked off as a block party request.
“Some people will be very angry,” stated Councilwoman Charlene Storey. She added, reflecting on last year’s practice of not automatically setting up blockades at 3 p.m., “I think it was perfectly reasonable, but I don’t think we made progress.”
With the discussion over, it was agreed to have the barricades be set up at 3 p.m. this year.
Mr. Bowen asked why the cutoff time was 7 at night because he wanted to continue giving out candy after that time. He was told there is nothing prohibiting him or anyone else from giving out candy but that the streets will become open and the barricades will come down at 7 p.m.
Councilwoman Storey stated she would be distributing flyers to residents notifying them of the street closings.
Detective Cocca continued by explaining the protocols that will be followed which include possibly shutting down the entire four-way intersection of Bender and East Grant Avenues as well as possibly putting up barricades at Galloping Hill Road.
“The problem is you’re directing a lot of cars into the other side streets and people that aren’t familiar with the area starting blocking driveways, double parking,” detailed Detective Cocca, “It’s a tough operation for us because it’s not only just monitoring the crowds, it’s also monitoring the traffic on the surrounding streets which takes a lot. It’s a lot of work. It’s not an easy operation where you shut the street down and let the people flow. It doesn’t work like there. There’s a lot of planning, a lot of monitoring.”
Eugene Meola asked if there were plans in place in the event fire trucks or ambulances need access to Bender Avenue.
“We talk to fire and first aid so they also know what’s going to be going on. We’ll be covered,” responded Detective Cocca, adding that county dispatch will also be notified.
The issue of debris was briefly mentioned with the residents in attendance stating that there was some but nothing of any significance. Mr. Bowen even suggested having a trash can dressed up for Halloween with the sign ‘Feed The Monster’ to invite people to dispose of their candy wrappers.
No mention was made how overtime and manpower would be affected for the event.
As the meeting closed, everyone was satisfied with the outcome of blocking the streets from 3 p.m. till 7 in the evening, with Mr. Bowen concluding about what he wanted out of Halloween trick-or-treating, “I want to continue. I want it to go all night.”