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Jersey Shore leaders, cops gripe to lawmakers about ‘lawless’ young people

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Jersey Shore leaders, cops gripe to lawmakers about ‘lawless’ young people

Jun 13, 2024 | 6:56 am ET
By Sophie Nieto-Munoz
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Jersey Shore leaders, cops gripe to lawmakers about ‘lawless’ young people
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Jersey Shore leaders want the state to reassess juvenile detention statutes and pass new laws to punish people who plan pop-up parties. (Lori M. Nichols for New Jersey Monitor)

The Wildwood boardwalk is home to massive crowds on summer weekends, and cops say they are used to dealing with tourists and families visiting the beach. But over the last few years, younger visitors have turned more audacious, according to the city’s police chief, Joe Murphy.

Murphy and other police chiefs told lawmakers during a special hearing Wednesday that young people have spit on, cursed at, and assaulted officers in their towns.

“That crowd has turned extremely hostile and aggressive toward uniformed law enforcement officers,” Murphy said.

In the hearing, hosted by legislative Republicans, Jersey Shore town chiefs and mayors urged the state to reassess juvenile detention statutes and pass new laws to punish people who invite hundreds to boardwalks for parties.

Officers complain they feel “handcuffed” by a 2020 directive from then-Attorney General Gurbir Grewal telling officers they should divert young people out of the criminal justice system whenever possible by issuing warnings or adjusting their charges in exchange for a formal promise to perform community service or pay restitution.

Officers and town officials have also complained about a provision in the state’s cannabis law that prohibits cops from arresting people under 21 solely for smelling like weed or refusing to give up their stash.

Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano said he assigns 50 officers along his 2.5-mile boardwalk, hoping their presence deters any negative activity, but it hardly helps when young people are “brazen” and “lawless,” he said.

“We’re doing everything we can to put police on the street. We just don’t have them. I don’t see them coming in in the future, the way things are going,” he said.

Ocean City Police Chief Bill Campbell said police departments have had a recruitment problem since the nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

“The memory of what they’ve seen as far as these violent protests and demonstrations that have happened from four years ago, moving forward to these unruly juveniles and these pop-up beach parties, et cetera, are tainting the idea of young people to want to get in this profession,” said Campbell.

Sen. Mike Testa (R-Cumberland), whose district includes Cape May, led the hearing. He has proposed several pieces of legislation that would address some of the town leaders’ concerns, including proposals to allow towns to create alcohol- and cannabis-free zones and create new crimes of mob and cyber intimidation. Testa said the Democrat-led Legislature is not interested in the bills.

“It’s trying to get traction from the majority party to get these things done. I wish it were not a partisan issue, it’s not bipartisan — it’s nonpartisan,” said Testa. “It’s about tourism, which again, is the lifeblood of the economy, especially during our summer months.”