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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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Pop-up Events a Bit of a Cat and Mouse Game, Prosecutor Says

Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland

By Christopher South

COURT HOUSE – Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland, who had just attended a roundtable discussion on disorderly gatherings, said there was no way shore towns and offshore communities could have prepared for the H2oi rally and the events of Sept. 24. 

Speaking on Nov. 7, Sutherland said law enforcement in Cape May County had been monitoring the so-called “pop-up” events for two summers.  

“What the public doesn’t know is there are a lot of events that get promoted that end up not being anything,” he said.  

Sutherland said law enforcement had news of a group that was coming to Ocean City. He said extra law enforcement was on duty for the event, and fewer than 100 people showed up.  

“They walked on the boardwalk and saw there were no crowds, and they left,” he said. “So, it’s a bit of a cat and mouse game.” 

Sutherland said his office did receive some information regarding the H2oi event that affected the Wildwoods and part of Middle Township in advance. His office also knew that law enforcement would be monitoring an MS Bikeathon in Ocean City, the Irish Festival in North Wildwood, a Seafarer’s Festival in Wildwood Crest and another event in Cape May. 

“All those events require extra law enforcement presence. So now you’ve got to pull from other events where there could be problems. It was just one of those situations where, you know, for lack of better terms, it was like a bum rush where there were just so many people in time with our resources spread thin,” he said.  

Sutherland said he thought the situation was mostly controlled on Friday night, Sept. 23, but there was a huge increase in the number of people in town on Saturday. He believes the social media presence encouraged many people to show up. He said over the weekend, more than 500 tickets were written, and that ties up officers who might otherwise be deterring bad behavior. However, even a benign event such as the MS Bikeathon requires police attention for traffic control.  

Asked if officers were being harassed by H2oi crowd members, Sutherland said officers are always at risk when there are crowds. There were a lot of people on foot who were making it difficult for police vehicles to get to where they needed to be. He said one person was arrested who, while being on foot, was allegedly encouraging drivers to drive in an unsafe manner.    

Sutherland saidin the offseason law enforcement gears up for what he called “the ongoing population,” and during the shoulder season there is an understanding that there are a lot of festivals, which bring another population. He said even if these festivals don’t create dangerous situations, they require extra personnel to manage routine crowd control, for example.  

“You still need somebody at an intersection,” he said.  

Sutherland said he thought the police acted admirably under those circumstances. He said even if a town held an organized event and expected 100 people, and then 500 people showed up, there would be some difficulty responding to the numbers.  

There was also an increased level of 911 calls and police communication in general. However, Sutherland said his office is still reviewing the response to see what they could do in the future to have better results.  

He said one of the first actions that needs to be taken is to have better statutes on the books to allow law enforcement to hold the organizers of unsanctioned events criminally liable. Sutherland said the goal is not to arrest people for crimes, but to discourage people from holding these events in the first place. 

More thoughts about H2oi? Submit a spout at spoutoff.cmcherald.com. 

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