WILDWOOD – The Wildwood Board of Commissioners introduced two ordinances, May 10, aimed at enhancing police powers with regard to illegal alcohol use in public.
Ordinance 1261-23 will designate offenses, including underage drinking, as a “breach of the peace,” and Ordinance 1262-23 will prohibit even unopened containers of alcohol on the beach and Boardwalk.
Violators under the two ordinances could be sentenced to fines of up to $2,000 and up to 90 days in jail, the maximum penalties allowed for misdemeanor offenses.
According to City Solicitor Louis DeLollis, Ordinance 1261-23 was designed to address potential problems that are becoming more typical in shore towns, particularly with regard to juvenile issues.
Leaders in shore towns, such as Sea Isle City and Avalon, have been very outspoken regarding the New Jersey Attorney General’s Directive 2020-12 addressing juvenile justice.
Under the directive, law enforcement is advised to take various steps, such as so-called curbside warnings and stationhouse adjustments, before charging youth with crimes.
The attorney general’s directive was intended to keep juveniles out of the criminal justice system.
Municipal leaders and police department representatives have said that the directive has made it difficult to address juvenile crime, which has included underage drinking, marijuana use, vandalism, and noise.
Enter the concept of breaches of the peace, which calls for an arrest with the potential for high fines.
“The reason we did that was, with some of the new laws in effect on the state level, it just hampered what police can do, so we looked at the city code and looked at what we could do locally,” DeLollis said.
Ordinance 1261-23 lists several violations that could be considered a breach of the peace, including: Possession or consumption of alcohol by underage persons on private property, which can include the suspension of driving privileges; loud noise, particularly amplified noise; and smoking in areas where it is prohibited.
DeLollis said several areas in the city code were revised to indicate they were not a typical violation, but at the officer’s discretion, a misdemeanor charge can be levied, as allowed by state statute.
DeLollis said the city is investigating whether new legislation could be introduced to raise the maximum fines for some violations.
“On the local level, the state hamstrung the police’s ability to do anything. What we are looking to do at the city level is to see what tools we can put in the police arsenal to do what is called for,” he said.
DeLollis said, previously, when a juvenile was behaving in a way that was considered out of hand, arresting him or her was off the table.
“Now, it might give (police), in certain circumstances, the ability to place them under arrest,” he said.
DeLollis noted Mayor Pete Byron had been speaking to state Sen. Michael Testa (R-1st) about similar issues, particularly after the H2oi pop-up car rally that happened last September in Wildwood, which resulted in two people being killed and others injured.
DeLollis said there are people who are not afraid of being arrested but who might be discouraged by large fines. He said the city continues to talk to state legislators about what can be done at the state level to address general or specific incidents or events.
The Wildwood commissioners also introduced Ordinance 1262-23, which would prohibit the consumption, possession, or display of any alcoholic beverage, in any type of container, on the entire beach or boardwalk, except in a designated restaurant or bar.
DeLollis said the ordinance amends the laws prohibiting open containers of alcohol. He said the ordinance is meant to eliminate the problem of officers having to argue with violators who might claim their container wasn’t open.
Over Memorial Day weekend, in 2018, Wildwood received national news attention related to the handling of an underage drinker on the beach. The 20-year-old Philadelphia woman apparently argued that the beer in her possession was not open. The confrontation escalated to the point of the officers wrestling the woman to the sand and one officer striking her several times with his fist. The officers were placed on administrative duties pending an investigation.
The ordinance changes prohibiting possession or display of alcoholic beverages, in addition to having an open container, would eliminate such arguments.
DeLollis said the new ordinance should eliminate debate with people over whether a container is open because the possession of alcoholic beverages on the beach is prohibited.
“They can’t have it,” he said.
DeLollis said he anticipated signage to advise beachgoers of the new law.
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