West Orange authorities said they've arrested five teenagers Thursday night after they allegedly were caught with marijuana on Hazel Elementary School's playground. The arrests come after batches of empty plastic bags believed to have contained marijuana or crack cocaine were discovered at the school on Hazel Avenue this week.
Though found empty, the small bags, commonly used to package drugs, appeared to contain residue of marijuana and cocaine, said West Orange Police Chief James Abbott.
Two 16-year-old girls from West Orange, two 16-year-old boys from East Orange and one 16-year-old boy from Orange were arrested without incident shortly before 8 p.m. Their names were not released because they are minors.
Roughly 30 plastic bags were recovered Sunday night and another 26 on Thursday morning. Police said the bags were littered across the east and west areas of the playground. They said the number of bags recovered suggests the playground has become a focal point for the use and/or distribution of drugs.
Two more bags were found Friday morning, after the teens were arrested.
Abbott said that despite the arrests, there "still might be other players involved."
Abbot said he would continue to increase patrols in the area. "Hopefully this is an end," he said. "We're not going to tolerate it … this is a school, not dissimilar to a park, we're going to pay extra attention to it so it's a safe haven for families."
Superintendent of Schools Anthony Cavanna said he was "surprised" by the incident, "This is a school and usually all community members have respect for school property."
Cavanna said the incident provides an opportunity to work closely with the police department and put preventive measures in place. "This is not something we like to see."
He said the school currently has no security guards but that administrators and custodians usually police the grounds before children arrive during the school year.
Aside from administrators and custodians, there are currently no children in the school.
"Luckily, the school is closed," said Laura Lab, president of the board of education. "We want our playgrounds to be family oriented, we want moms to be able to take their three-year-olds over there … and obviously it's not ideal and I would hope that if it's a constant problem, the police will have extra security."
The playground is surrounded by a fence with a sign that reads the space is open to the public from 8 a.m. until dusk.
Residents who live across the street from the school who did not want to disclose their names, said the neighborhood is pretty safe and that the playground is usually filled with families.
They said they haven't noticed groups of people entering the grounds at night.