COVID-19 restrictions incite reckless behavior among teenagers

Teenagers are often characterized by their reckless behavior, and although Westfield is typically peaceful, crime among teens has increased during the pandemic. Stealing seemingly harmless things like street signs and lawn decorations, especially during the holiday season, have been a recent trend among teenagers in Westfield. 

Westfield Police Chief Christopher Battiloro feels teenagers find a thrill in their theft, and said, “there’s a certain novelty in street signs and people display them, whether it’s in their garage, bedroom or their basement.” 

To support Battiloro’s statement, an anonymous WHS student who admitted to stealing multiple street signs said that he uses them to decorate his garage. “People see [the street signs] in my garage and ask about them. There are always fun stories to tell about stealing them with my friends and they spark funny memories.”

When it comes to stealing, our anonymous sources all said they steal street signs because it brings an adrenaline rush. One anonymous WHS student said, “When you’re with your friends walking home at the end of the night, they provoke you to steal another sign. It’s harmless and fun.” 

They said they do not steal important traffic control signs like stop signs or yield signs, and instead target local street signs for their sentimental value. One anonymous student said his collection of street signs are mementos of his childhood, as they remind him of the streets he grew up around. 

However, this disorderly behavior has a dangerous impact on Westfield residents. Battiloro said, “People might think it’s fashionable to steal a stop sign, but if there’s an accident, there’s a tremendous public safety issue.” Stealing local street signs may have less of an impact on public safety, but it encourages more theft which can eventually lead to traffic control signs being taken in the future.  

The seemingly harmless fun of committing minor crimes in town creates a sense of danger and feelings of insecurity among residents. An anonymous Westfield resident who had Christmas decorations stolen from her said that she was angry because Westfield normally feels like a small, safe community. The attack felt personal and “It [was] likely that it was neighborhood teens that we probably know from school.”

Westfield isn’t the only place where minor crimes like stealing have become popular recently. In a recent TikTok trend, stolen traffic cones were decorated to resemble Christmas trees. An anonymous source who participated in this trend said, “it definitely got [her] adrenaline pumping.” With influence from social media, theft is becoming commonplace and there is a growing sense of disobedience among teenagers.  

Battiloro made it clear that stealing is an unacceptable act. “We never ignore it and all documented instances of criminal activity are referred to our detective bureau for follow-up investigation. Our detectives will look at things like ring doorbell footage, or other surveillance videos to see if they can identify a suspect. If through investigative methods a perpetrator is identified, that person will be charged accordingly,” said Battiloro. 

Battiloro said that in addition to many street signs, some of the decorative butterflies downtown and new holiday decorations were destroyed, which they presumed was done by teenagers. Police have also reported young people trespassing on rooftops downtown and staying in the parks when they are closed. Overall, there is an increase in minor crimes committed by young people in Westfield which many attribute to a sense of restlessness from COVID-19 restrictions. 

  An anonymous student said, “I definitely feel a lot more restless because I’ve been locked inside all year. When I finally get a chance to go out I want to do something memorable and fun like taking street signs.” 

Battiloro also agrees with this theory of the pandemic having something to do with the increase in these crimes and said, “there’s not much socialization going on and I think people are releasing some pent up frustration.”

Although COVID-19 has brought a lot of frustration, Battiloro reminds the community that “we still need to act responsibly. We still need to respect people and their property… there’s no excuse for criminal behavior.”