Home / News / Ocean City Calls Emergency Council Meeting Following Teen Disruptions

Ocean City Calls Emergency Council Meeting Following Teen Disruptions

Nov 20, 2023Nov 20, 2023


City Council has called an emergency meeting following an outburst of underage drinking, vandalism and assaults over the Memorial Day weekend that prompted Ocean City to impose a stricter curfew and other measures to prevent teenage rowdiness.

Council will discuss the city's strategy to crack down on large groups of disruptive teens during an emergency meeting 1 p.m. Thursday at City Hall. The meeting will be followed by a 3 p.m. news conference by Mayor Jay Gillian and Police Chief Jay Prettyman at the Music Pier on the Boardwalk.

Gillian announced Tuesday that all beaches in Ocean City will now be closed at 8 p.m. The curfew for juveniles will move from 1 a.m. to 11 p.m.

In addition, the Boardwalk bathrooms will be closed at 10 p.m. Backpacks will not be permitted after 8 p.m. on the beach and Boardwalk.

"I want to support the men and women of our police department," Gillian said. "They have been doing everything they can – within the law – to address this situation, and I want to give them the tools to get the job done," Gillian said in a statement.

The new beach curfew will apply to people of all ages, as will the evening backpack ban. The new rules will be part of a citywide plan that will include police staffing, more announcements on the Boardwalk and a public awareness campaign, Gillian said.

"I understand that these new directives will affect many people who are not teens, but it's important that we stop this type of behavior now," he said. "In the end, protecting our reputation as ‘America's Greatest Family Resort’ will benefit everybody in Ocean City."

The new curfew, backpack ban and other action by the city follow a flare-up of underage drinking, assaults, shoplifting and the confiscation of a firearm during the Memorial Day weekend, according to the city.

"Over the weekend, police responded to 999 incidents, up from 869 during Memorial Day Weekend in 2022. In addition to underage drinking, police responded to incidents involving vandalism, assaults, shoplifting, confiscation of a firearm, and a variety of other infractions," the city said in a statement.

"Ocean City firefighter/EMTs were just as busy responding to several incidents involving teens who drank to the point of unconsciousness, assault victims, mental health issues and other incidents," the statement added.

Ocean City and other communities at the Jersey Shore have struggled with large groups of rowdy teens disrupting the summer tourism season for two years in a row. Up to this point, Ocean City's strategy was to allow teens to gather on the beaches at night under police supervision to prevent them from spilling onto the Boardwalk and causing more damage.

Police have different options for dealing for troublesome teens. By far, most of them are given "curbside warnings" for minor offenses such as using foul language or riding bikes on the Boardwalk after hours. The curbside warnings effectively allow police to tell the juveniles to move along.

In 2022, Ocean City police issued 41,000 documented curbside warnings, the highest number of any municipality in New Jersey, Prettyman said.

If things escalate, police may take juveniles into custody for what is known as a "stationhouse adjustment." Police will then call the parents or legal guardians to have them pick up their children.

There were 467 stationhouse adjustments in Ocean City in 2022, the highest number of any town in the state, Prettyman said.

Juveniles are not arrested or given a summons for stationhouse adjustments. Usually, they have to write an essay and perform some type of community service such as cleaning up litter as punishment.

As another more serious step to deal with juvenile crime, City Council approved a new ordinance in January that will classify a litany of minor offenses such as underage drinking, curfew violations and littering as a "breach of the peace" to allow police to detain juveniles who allegedly break local laws.

Juveniles risk being arrested for a breach of the peace. But Prettyman noted that the ordinance will only be used in small numbers as a last resort.

State laws enacted in 2021 as part of Gov. Phil Murphy's juvenile justice reforms put restrictions on police on how far they can go in their interactions with teens. Murphy wants to avoid saddling teenagers with a criminal record that could hurt them later on when they try to enter college or begin their careers.

Gillian and Prettyman are among the elected officials and police chiefs at the shore who have complained that rowdy teens have little to fear now of being arrested, which has emboldened them to commit crimes such as theft, vandalism, underage public drinking and smoking marijuana.

In his statement, Gillian said Ocean City's stricter curfew and other measures are in response to "the continuation of a trend that began when statewide legislation largely stripped police officers of the ability to question juveniles, search juveniles, and confiscate alcohol. The legislation also eliminates meaningful consequences for juveniles who break these laws."

"We want parents, grandparents and families to know that we’re all in this together, and we will be holding people accountable," he added. "I also want to send a message to our governor and legislators that the laws they forced on all municipalities are a threat to public safety, and they deprive families of the opportunity to enjoy the Jersey Shore."