Home Latest Stories Ocean City Begins Crackdown on Rowdy Teens

Ocean City Begins Crackdown on Rowdy Teens

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Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian speaks of measures to stop rowdy behavior during a June 1 news conference.

By MADDY VITALE and DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Michelle Hoeflich, of Washington Township, N.J., her daughter, Brielle Metzger, and her four children represent three generations of a family that has been spending summers in Ocean City.

But with rowdy teens responsible for wreaking havoc over Memorial Day weekend, the family has concerns.

“I don’t know what has happened to this world,” Hoeflich said as she and her family walked along the Boardwalk on Thursday afternoon. “We have been coming down for day trips for years, but over the last couple years, there have been troubles.”

In response to an outburst of underage drinking, vandalism, shoplifting and assaults by unruly teens over Memorial Day weekend, the city took the first steps to impose a new curfew and a ban on backpacks – which have been used to tote alcohol and weapons in some cases, officials said.

The action includes a new juvenile curfew of 11 p.m., keeping people off the beaches after 8 p.m. and closing the Boardwalk bathrooms at 10 p.m.

In an emergency meeting Thursday, City Council unanimously introduced two ordinances to make the beach and Boardwalk bathroom curfews and the backpack ban new laws.

City Council introduces two ordinances that are a centerpiece of the city’s strategy to crack down on rowdy teens.

A special Council meeting will be held June 15 for a public hearing and final vote on the ordinances. Council is pushing to get the ordinances on the books so that the curfew and backpack ban will be ready for the big crowds of juveniles that are expected over Father’s Day weekend.

“Delaying the adoption of these ordinances would likely permit a recurrence of the disruption seen last weekend,” Council President Pete Madden said.

Reading from a statement, Madden called the two ordinances “urgent and important to the maintenance of peace on the Boardwalk and the safety of juveniles, first responders and innocent bystanders in the area of the Boardwalk.”

In tough words during the Council meeting, Mayor Jay Gillian vowed that the city will hold the teens – and their parents, if necessary – accountable for breaking the law.

“I have not yet heard a good reason why we can’t hold kids accountable and educate them, because if we don’t, what the hell are we getting when they grow up? Because if they think they can destroy a town and do whatever they want, we’ve failed,” Gillian said.

Gillian said as mayor, he was compelled to take action after he feared that teens and other people in town could possibly be in danger.

“My biggest concern, as long as I’m mayor is, if I see a child or someone in danger, I am going to react very harshly, and that’s what I see right now,” he said. “I see kids drinking too much and passing out. I see our EMTs and Narcan bringing kids back to life. I’m not being over-emotional and all of that kind of stuff. But this is serious.”

A crowd fills most of the Council Chambers during the meeting.

City officials described a chaotic scene over the holiday weekend that included assaults, vandalism, shoplifting and public drunkenness. A weapon was confiscated from a backpack. Some of the juveniles drank so much alcohol that they fell unconscious and had to be revived by EMTs.

In some cases, police officers were the target of vitriol. Some of the officers were spat upon by the juveniles, while others were openly taunted by brazen teens, city officials said.

“Kids are spitting on people. They’re spitting on cops,” Gillian said. “We had two people who were doing the bathrooms quit because they were spit on and pushed out of the way.”

Although a stricter curfew and backpack ban will be in effect, the ordinances include “common sense exceptions,” City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson said.

Gillian assured the public during the Council meeting that police will not be heavy-handed while enforcing the new laws.

“Yes, there’s a beach closure. But it’s not going to be Gestapo. We’re not going to be throwing everybody in jail and all that kind of stuff,” he said.

Juveniles will be allowed out after 11 p.m. if accompanied by an adult or legal guardian, traveling to or from their summer jobs, or participating in organized activities such as religious or recreation programs.

Police will give at least two verbal “curbside warnings” to juveniles who are not allowed to be out after 11 p.m. If the warnings are ignored, police will be able to take juveniles into custody for a “stationhouse adjustment. Under that scenario, parents or legal guardians will be called to the police station to pick up their children.

Michelle Hoeflich, left, and her daughter, Brielle Metzger, and her children, have made Ocean City daytrips a summer staple but are concerned now about troublesome teens.

The backpack ban will cover juveniles and adults. It will be in effect on the Boardwalk each night between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. through Sept. 15.

Exceptions to the ban will be made for police officers, members of the media, fishermen on the beach, people with medical devices and mothers using backpacks to carry such things as diapers.

Several members of the public generally spoke in favor of the new ordinances during the Council meeting.

However, one Boardwalk business owner questioned whether it would be a good thing to close down the public bathrooms at 10 p.m. He said that some Boardwalk businesses remain open until 11 p.m. or midnight, so it would be important to keep public restrooms opened later than 10 p.m.

Gillian said during a news conference that there is continued discussion about the 10 p.m. bathroom closure, and there may be an accommodation made.

Ocean City resident E.C. Reeves warned of the possible negative impact on the resort’s tourism industry if the city did not crack down on rowdy teens and disruptions continued throughout the summer.

“If you don’t take action, people will stop coming,” Reeves said, before closing his remarks with a prayer.

Ocean City resident E.C. Reeves, who ended his remarks to Council with a prayer, is worried that visitors will stop coming to the resort.

Liz Nicoletti, an Ocean City Board of Education member, thanked the mayor and Council for the new ordinances, but she suggested that the community could help out in a broader way by forming a volunteer network to help police keep an eye on things on the Boardwalk.

“I want my schools protected. I want my community protected,” Nicoletti said while adding that she also wants her four teenage children to be safe.

After the special Council meeting, Gillian held a news conference outside of the Music Pier, where he outlined ways the city is working to halt or lessen disruptive behavior by disrespectful teens.

Gillian, City Council members, Police Chief Jay Prettyman and state and county officials told a barrage of media during the press conference Thursday that the teens’ raucous behavior and illegal activities will not be tolerated.

“This weekend, I saw things and heard of things that absolutely bother me, because I am worried about the well-being of our kids,” Gillian told the crowd.

It starts with the parents and guardians, he noted.

“If we’re going to continue just to drive our kids to the end of the street and let five or six or seven of them come up and they have backpacks full of beer, wine, weapons, that’s what got me,” he said, adding that police confiscated a couple of weapons.

Prettyman also addressed the media about the recent problems.

“Over the last few years, Memorial Day weekend has gotten worse,” he pointed out.

Ocean City Police Chief Jay Prettyman outlines the new plan for deploying officers across town.

Prettyman said that his officers are being reassigned to cover the entire city. There are 62 officers, some seasonal, who were all stationed up on the Boardwalk.

He said the beaches are being closed early “out of necessity.”

“There were 3,000 to 5,000 teens on the beach on the weekend,” Prettyman said.

With the curfew and closure of the beach early, the patrols were reassigned to spread out all over from the Boardwalk to the downtown, he said.

Cape May County Board of Commissioners Director Leonard Desiderio spoke of the Ocean City ordinances that will officially set the curfews and other restrictions in motion.

Desiderio, who is also the Sea Isle City mayor, said, “This ordinance today is going to keep Ocean City, which is a beautiful community, a great community. And those that want to come and be disruptive, this ain’t the place for you.”

Sea Isle has already approved a juvenile curfew as well as a nighttime backpack ban on the Promenade for the summer.

“We don’t want to lock anybody up,” Desiderio emphasized. “These kids are our future. They are our future leaders.”

Cape May County Board of Commissioners Director Leonard Desiderio, also Sea Isle City’s mayor, says the new ordinances will help preserve Ocean City’s family-friendly atmosphere.

Speaking during the news conference, state Sen. Michael Testa said it is all about preserving the community – doing what is best for the teens, the visitors to tourist towns and the residents.

“We have to preserve Ocean City and make sure it stays America’s Greatest Family Resort,” Testa said, using the town’s tourism slogan. “I look down this Boardwalk and I see all these wonderful shops. And I see the lifeblood of not only Ocean City, but the lifeblood of Cape May County. I look at all of these shops and realize, this is the lifeblood of the economy in Cape May County, and we must restore law and order.”

Testa fears things will become worse if something isn’t done and a strong message isn’t sent to troublesome teens.

“If we don’t have law and order restored in all of our shore towns, on all of our boardwalks, we will have pure chaos,” he said.