According to police, 15 Ridgewood teenagers had to be picked up by their parents at the police station. Three adults were arrested for possession of alcohol or having open containers. And one scuffle between two juveniles was reported last Saturday at Van Neste Square.
To Paul Vagianos, an organizer for grassroots community organization RHS Backwoods, the numbers represent a positive trend – the police and parental chaperons are now much more effective in identifying those who 'pregame' at the popular 'Backwoods' dances organized for high school students, he contends.
"The dance was monstrously successful," Vagianos said. "We were much more stringent at the gate in letting students in. The vast majority of students who were flagged were flagged at the gate."
Having put on prior Backwoods dances, chaperons, police and organizers were better prepared this time for the 900 students, he said. There were 15 chaperons, 8 police officers and an additional two layers of fencing around the park.
"This was probably double the number of incidents at our previous dances and we were disappointed there were as many incidents as there were. We believe a lot of that was due to our being more stringent at the gate and that we were just catching more," Vagianos said.
There are no pat downs but students cannot bring bags and are asked to leave jackets at the gate, per the policy. By slowly letting students in, many who were intoxicated were easy to spot by the time they reached the gate, Vagianos said.
"The system we've implemented with them [police] is very, very effective and that's why we caught so many kids at the gate. We're all getting better at this...no one can say absolutely for certain but I definitely believe it is getting better. We know what to look for now."
Ridgewood police Cpt. Jacqueline Luthcke said there were no reports of lewd behavior at the dance and said the majority behaved themselves.
To hammer home the message that the dance should be alcohol and substance free, in the days prior to the dance assemblies on the dangers of drinking for all high school grade levels were led by Tim Silvestri, a psychologist at Lafayette College.
A letter imploring parents to be involved by discussing the dangers of binge drinking with their students was also sent out.
Still, Vagianos and others involved in the dances are realistic.
"Our goal is to have nobody drinking at the dance," Vagianos said. "We know that is an unattainable goal and so we know there were going to be teens who would come to the dance and drink. We're trying to minimize the number and catch as many as we can at the gate."
Mayor Paul Aronsohn said the invested parties of Backwoods – which has replaced school dances at the high school – would be sitting down to discuss what transpired last Saturday at the park.
"Clearly we need to review what happened Saturday, both the good and the bad," Aronsohn said. "Some incidents happened but they were addressed. I applaud the increased vigilance and enforcement. These are all good things."
Aronsohn said he was not aware of any plans to discontinue any dances and remarked that there was good cooperation between parents, police and roughly 882 students.
"I think we're tyring to address these issues from different angles," the mayor said, highlighting the school seminars on binge drinking. "It's important; it's a community-wide effort that should and must continue."
Vagianos agreed a singular focus isn't the answer.
"This is a joint effort between the Backwoods organization and the parents," he said. "We sent the letter to all the parents saying work with us, help us, we can't do this alone. If it's just up to us, it's never going to happen."
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