Source: Press of Atlantic City
As Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian rolled out new rules aimed at curbing crowds of unruly teens in the resort, he said multiple times he would not seek to cast blame, just get the problems addressed.
During a news conference held on the Boardwalk, he said he would help build support for changes to state laws that city officials say contributed to the problems, especially those governing underage possession of alcohol:
“In order to ensure that the safe enjoyment of the Jersey Shore is available to every family and resident, this administration will continue to work with the local elected officials and law enforcement officials of our shore towns to address this issue fairly and responsibly.”
State Sen. Michael Testa, called on the state Legislature to amend the criminal justice bills, citing “lawlessness by drunk and rowdy teenagers,” mentioning Ocean City in his press release. “The Murphy administration’s continued inaction in helping shore towns respond to pop-up parties is disturbing,” Testa said. “I fully support Ocean City’s efforts, but there aren’t many small towns that can maintain public safety and effectively protect their communities when thousands of rowdy people suddenly show up with little or no warning.”
Many shore town politicians and police have said that provision of a juvenile justice reform package approved as New Jersey set the legislative framework for a legal cannabis industry went too far, describing it as handcuffing police in their handling of juveniles. Other bills proposed by Testa allow towns to establish alcohol- and cannabis-free areas and urge the governor and attorney general to help towns respond to mass gatherings, such as a pop-up car rally in Wildwood last year that had deadly results.
There were close to 1,000 police interactions with teens over Memorial Day weekend, according to Ocean City reports, and several juveniles were treated after drinking themselves unconscious.
“The lawlessness that I saw play out in our shore towns over Memorial Day weekend was shocking. Large crowds and pop-up parties continue to cause damage to local communities, and it will only get worse as summer approaches,” Testa said. “Underage drinking, vandalism and drug use were all on display with very little consequences to those in attendance. Residents and tourists fear for their safety, and business owners will suffer the consequences unless the Legislature and the governor step up and address this issue head on.”
Ami Kachalia, a campaign strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said the change in state law came based on what happened in other states after the legalization of cannabis, where she said arrests of teenagers, especially Black and Latino youth, increased after adults were allowed to possess the drug.
The intent of the state law was to avoid increasing the harm done to juveniles, she said, adding there are more effective ways of addressing the risks of alcohol and cannabis consumption among young people than criminalization.