A Cheeky Problem: NJ Town OKs Boardwalk Ban on Saggy Pants
Hindsight will soon be punishable by a $25 fine in this Jersey Shore resort.
Wildwood passed a law Wednesday night banning overly saggy pants on the boardwalk, prompted by numerous complaints from longtime visitors about having to see people's rear ends hanging out in public.
Subsequent violations of the law, which could take effect as early as July 2, could result in fines as high as $200, and 40 hours of community service.
Civil libertarians say the law is unconstitutional and predict it will be overturned if challenged in court.
But Mayor Ernest Troiano Jr. said the issue is simple.
"This is just adding a little bit of decency to our town," he said. "It's amazing - and this is a pun - how far decency has fallen through the cracks."
Wildwood is a resort town near the southernmost tip of New Jersey. It is famous for its doo-wop '50s musical culture, its neon art-deco motels, and ridiculously wide beaches that are free - a rarity in New Jersey, which forces most other beachgoers to pay for the privilege.
The law passed unanimously, and no one spoke against it. Several residents strongly supported the law.
"It's long overdue," said Mary Erceg. "People who choose to dress like that offend any person. There has to be some common standard of decency. It offends all of us."
"We need it," added resident Dennis Flynn. "This is our city. You have to respect it."
Known popularly as "sagging," the trend originated in the U.S. prison system, where inmates are not allowed to wear belts. It was popularized by hip-hop artists and embraced by youths.
Authorities in suburbs of New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Miami and Jacksonville, Fla., are among those who have passed laws banning overly droopy pants.
Bathing suits are already prohibited for both sexes on the Wildwood boardwalk, unless covered up by other clothing.
City Commissioner Pete Byron said the city is not trying to be the fashion police.
"There's a line that gets crossed between being a fashion statement and being obnoxious," he said. "Families can feel threatened."
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has declined to take a position on the law, but other ACLU chapters around the country have said such laws are unconstitutional.
Troiano said he hopes no one will have to be cited by police for violating the ordinance. Rather, he said, a well-placed word from an officer should suffice to convince boardwalk patrons with overly low-slung jeans to hike them up.
Police Chief Steven Long said his officers will respond appropriately when they see violations.
"The ultimate goal is compliance," he said. "We're just trying to make the city a better place to visit."
"The city is not going to be out hunting these kids down," the mayor said. "We're not going to be out there with a tape measure. But we know what's right and not right. If we don't make an attempt to clean our town up, who's going to?"