Ocean City Remains Safe, Despite Rowdy Weekend, Mayor Says

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Police Chief Bill Campbell, flanked by Mayor Jay Gillian at right, outlines Ocean City's response to the trouble over the Memorial Day weekend.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Behave – or get out.

Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian is warning troublemaking teenagers to stay away from the resort community following a rowdy Memorial Day weekend tainted by a stabbing, fights, shoplifting and other crimes committed by groups of juveniles roaming the Boardwalk.

“The incidents this Memorial Day weekend were unacceptable,” Gillian said during a Boardwalk news conference Thursday attended by local, county and state elected officials in a show of support for Ocean City.

At the same time, Gillian and Police Chief Bill Campbell repeatedly sought to reassure the public that Ocean City remains a safe, welcoming and family-friendly vacation destination poised for a successful summer tourism season.

“Everybody who loves Ocean City can be rest assured this summer will be a great one. We’re not blaming anybody. We are Ocean City. We are the safest town. That’s why people come here,” Gillian said.

Gillian praised Campbell and the city’s other police officers for reacting swiftly to the trouble while ensuring the safety of residents and tourists throughout the holiday weekend.

“I was up on the Boardwalk both Saturday and Sunday night, and people were behaving themselves and enjoying themselves just a short time after some of these incidents occurred. That’s a testament to the good work of our police officers,” Gillian said.

Altogether, police brought 23 teens into the police station for fighting, shoplifting and other offenses during the weekend. Police also issued more than 1,300 warnings for drinking alcohol in public, smoking marijuana, curfew violations and other infractions.

Teens who were brought in by police for “stationhouse adjustments” were released to the custody of their parents and can avoid formal charges by performing community service, Campbell said.

The most serious crime occurred Saturday night when a 15-year-old boy was stabbed on the Boardwalk near 10th Street. The stabbing did not cause life-threatening injuries. Police continue to look for the assailant.

Social media was filled with video and photos of teens getting into a fight on the Boardwalk that led to the stabbing. Campbell said the fight involved a group of teens from Atlantic City, Pleasantville and Mays Landing who knew each other.

“This was a targeted engagement between these juveniles. There were no other individuals who were targeted. Once this group was under control and removed from the Boardwalk, order and civility was restored in approximately 60 to 90 minutes,” he said.

“No outside vacationers or residents of Ocean City were targeted. This was a specific group with the intent of carrying out this fight that everybody saw on the video,” Campbell added.

Beaches are closed at 8 p.m. as part of the city’s strategy to prevent trouble.

Ocean City was not the only Jersey Shore town to experience disruptions over the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the summer tourism season. Wildwood declared a state of emergency and temporarily closed its Boardwalk overnight, while Seaside Heights was also gripped by teen trouble.

Responding to similar disruptions during Memorial Day weekend in 2023, Ocean City closed its beaches at 8 p.m., shut down the Boardwalk bathrooms at 10 p.m. and imposed an 11 p.m. curfew on juveniles. The city also approved a backpack ban on the Boardwalk to prevent juveniles from hiding alcohol, weapons or other contraband.

Campbell noted that police will continue to enforce the same curfews this summer as part of the city’s broad strategy to prevent large groups of teens from disrupting the Boardwalk and other areas of town. Other crime-fighting measures could be considered as well, he pointed out.

Ocean City already has the biggest seasonal police force of any town in the state. It will grow even larger when 24 new officers graduate from the police academy and hit the streets. Campbell said 20 of those officers will be assigned to patrol the Boardwalk.

Wes Kazmarck, president of the Boardwalk Merchants Association, expressed regret that groups of teenagers seem to cause trouble in Ocean City during Memorial Day weekend every year to start the summer season.

Kazmarck, though, said city officials and the police department are quick to respond to prevent serious disruptions from continuing throughout the rest of the summer. He voiced confidence that the same thing will happen again this year.

“The city has already corrected course and we think we’ll have a clean slate this summer,” he said.

The Boardwalk is one of Ocean City’s top attractions.

In addition to the curfews and other get-tough measures that Ocean City and other shore towns have undertaken at the local level, some state lawmakers are working on legislation to give police more power to deal with troublesome teens.

Assemblyman Antwan McClellan, of Ocean City, said during the Boardwalk news conference that state lawmakers, in concert with the Police Benevolent Association, are trying to put together new rules to help all of the shore towns.

“This is not a partisan issue. It’s happening up and down the coast,” McClellan said of the need to stop the rowdy behavior.

Cape May County Republicans have been frustrated by some of the juvenile justice reforms enacted by Gov. Phil Murphy’s Democratic administration, including the legal restraints currently placed on police if they confront minors who are drinking alcohol or smoking pot in public. They say the reforms have effectively “handcuffed” police, preventing them from enforcing the laws.

Campbell said he would like to see the state make it illegal for minors to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana. Currently, police can only issue warnings to juveniles for drinking or using pot.

“I certainly think that would help,” Campbell said of how he believes tougher laws would assist police in dealing with unruly teens.

More police officers will patrol the Boardwalk this summer.

Cape May County Board of Commissioners Director Leonard Desiderio, a Republican who also serves as mayor of Sea Isle City, said he intends to work with the county prosecutor and sheriff on more measures to help police.

During the news conference, Desiderio characterized the vast majority of teenagers as good kids who don’t get into trouble. But he believes that police need more tools to deal with the rowdy teens in Cape May County and elsewhere. He also wants parents to do a better job of supervising their children.

“We’re not going to tolerate any B.S.,” he said. “We’re going to ask the parents to keep an eye on their kids.”