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Monday, May 27, 2024

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County Taking Regional Approach to Solve H2oi, Juvenile Problems

Cape May County Sheriff Robert Nolan

By Christopher South

COURT HOUSE – County Commissioner Leonard Desiderio said the state needs to pass legislation to help towns and regions deal with disorderly gatherings, whether it be on the beaches and boardwalks or on the streets. 
The county hosted a workshop for municipal leaders and law enforcement, Nov. 7, to discuss disorderly gatherings such as pop-up car rallies and groups of disruptive juveniles.
Desiderio is also the mayor of Sea Isle City, a barrier island town that has found itself dealing with crowds of disruptive juveniles and feeling hampered by an Attorney General directive restricting how police may respond.
Invited to the roundtable were mayors and chiefs of police, including Middle Township Mayor Tim Donohue and North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello, whose towns were affected by the H2oi rally, and Martin Pagliughi, long-time mayor of Avalon, another barrier island town that has dealt with juvenile problems. 
Desiderio referred to the H2oi pop-up car rally as a two-town problem, referring to Middle Township and the Wildwoods. He said Donohue gave an overview of what happened in his town. Essentially, many of the participants in the unsanctioned rally, Sept. 21 to Sept. 25, gathered in the parking lot near Lowe’s on Route 9 in Middle Township before heading into Wildwood. There was a disruption in the shopping center lot, including a large crowd of people blocking traffic lanes. 
The participants assumedly moved into Wildwood, where two people were killed, Sept. 24, when a driver traveling at a high rate of speed hit a pedestrian before striking another car. Another driver hit a golf cart, seriously injuring the driver. 
Desiderio said Donohue gave a brief overview of what transpired in his community and how the event was unsanctioned and how they were using social media to direct the car owners. Desiderio said he participated in a nearly two-hour Zoom meeting with the mayor and other government officials from Ocean City, Maryland. 
He was joined by Assemblyman Antwan McClellan and local officials. Desiderio described Ocean City, Maryland, working with its state legislature for about three years to come up with a legal solution to the problem of unsanctioned car rallies. He said Ocean City also asked for the cooperation of residents, second homeowners and businesses in combatting the pop-up rallies. 
“Their legislature is ultimately what solved their problems. And that’s what we’re doing. We have the legislators from District One and District Two that are prepared to sponsor legislation to help us with juveniles, and also with the pop-up car rallies. We want to do a regional approach to this because this is a problem that could pop up in any municipality at any given time,” Desiderio said. 
Desiderio said the matter also needs a bipartisan effort to pass new legislation, which would include giving the police the authority to handle disruptive juveniles. The New Jersey Attorney General handed down guidelines in late 2020 aimed at shielding juveniles from having arrest records. 
Desiderio said no one wants to see a juvenile get a criminal record but feels the police should have the ability to detain the youth and call his or her parents. He said recently, some of the barrier islands towns have seen crowds of 500 to 800 juveniles and the towns feel handcuffed in their ability to deal with juveniles not only being a nuisance in the community but also illegally using alcohol and marijuana. 
He said his officers were only allowed to conduct so-called “curbside warnings” with juveniles, and that they conducted thousands of them over the course of the summer. Comparing the situations of juveniles versus out-of-control car rallies, Desiderio said the unsanctioned car rally that resulted in two deaths was more serious by far. 
“That’s what Ocean City, Maryland said – our worst fear was what happened in Wildwood,” he said. “And it could happen anywhere.”
Desiderio said he feels now is the time to move any type of legislation needed. He said Cape May County officials have pledged to state legislators that they would appear before any committee to give testimony to their experience with disorderly and criminal gatherings.
Desiderio stressed, however, that while it is the county taking this action, the county is simply acting as an extension of local governments.
Thoughts? Questions? Email csouth@cmcherald.com or call 609-886-8600 ext. 128.

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