New Jersey attorney general blames shore town for having too few police on boardwalk during melee

SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey's attorney general on Friday blamed a Jersey Shore town for not having enough police officers patrolling its boardwalk over the Memorial Day weekend, when the force was overwhelmed and the city temporarily closed the walkway.

Matthew Platkin said Wildwood did not have enough police officers assigned to its boardwalk on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, when the city says it was swamped with calls for help to respond to incidents of rowdy teens and young adults creating disturbances.

The disorder led the city to close the boardwalk overnight and to seek help from neighboring police departments.

Numerous local officials and police supervisors from Jersey Shore towns, as well as the president of the statewide police union, blame a series of juvenile justice reforms New Jersey has enacted in recent years with emboldening teens and giving them the sense that there is little police can do to them if they are caught with alcohol or marijuana.

But during an event to check boardwalk games of chance to make sure they comply with state regulations and give customers a fair chance to win, Platkin defended the law and placed responsibility squarely on Wildwood, which he said has “hired the fewest law enforcement officers this year than they've ever hired.”

“I don't think we had enough law enforcement officers out in Wildwood last weekend, and we're working to correct that,” he said.

Wildwood officials did not respond to an inquiry about how many officers it had assigned to the boardwalk last weekend. But it said in a statement that additional officers will join the force in a matter of days.

“Every police department is shorthanded today,” Wildwood Public Safety Commissioner Steve Mikulski said. "Young men and women are not going into the police or fire academy like they used to. We have people moving through police academy right now who will be coming on board in June. This is the same timeline every year.”

Ocean City endured its second straight year of disturbances during Memorial Day weekend, including the stabbing of a 15-year-old boy who is recovering from non-life-threatening wounds in a case that remains unsolved.

Mayor Jay Gillian, in a note to residents posted Friday on the city's website, said Ocean City police brought 23 teens into the police station for fights, shoplifting and other infractions. The officers issued more than 1,300 warnings for alcohol, cannabis, curfew and other violations.

“The teens involved in these fights were known to each other, and came to Ocean City with the intent of causing harm to each other,” Gillian said. “That behavior will not be tolerated, and our police department is fully prepared to address it.”

Critics blame juvenile justice reforms designed to keep more juveniles out of the court system that imposed several restrictions on police officers’ interactions with them. In January, the law was revised to remove some of the threats of punishment for officers dealing with juveniles suspected of possessing alcohol or marijuana.

Platkin said Friday nothing in the law prevents police from arresting teens involved in violent events.

“I get when you have a frustrating episode you want to look for someone to blame. But there's no state regulation that prevents law enforcement officers from doing their job,” he said. “The law itself is largely not the issue. We need to make sure we have the people in place with the right training, and that's what we're doing now.”


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