North Wildwood mayor says police are limited when dealing with underage drinking, drug use
A Cape May County mayor says that a change in how police officers can handle interactions with minors is causing disturbances in his town.
“Until we have some changes at the state level, it’s just going to be the new normal that we’re going to have to live with,” says North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello.
Rosenello says that juveniles have been causing some issues at the boardwalk and that police have their hands tied.
“It concerns me personally that there’s kind of this perception that, ‘Hey, I can drink and smoke pot and cops can’t do anything about it,'” he says.
New legislation signed by Gov. Phil Murphy a few months ago limits how police officers can approach minors for underage drugs and alcohol possession. Rosenello says that this summer there have been eight juvenile-on-juvenile assaults. It’s not a spike, but interactions with minors and police are low.
“In the past, you see a group of young people and they’re acting disorderly and they’re making some noise and you see one of them with a beer, police can stop and say, ‘Hey, what’s that, what’s in your bag?’ because the possession of alcohol used to be probable cause for a stop. It no longer is, so that right there takes away proactive policing,” Rosenello says.
The mayor says that the town has printed up pamphlets to hand out to residents and visitors to better explain the law and what it means for the town’s officers.
“We have to explain to residents and visitors and homeowners, we know you called your concern about these kids next door drinking, but here’s the brochure that explains the state law and our police department’s hands are tied,” he says.
Other beach towns such as Avalon have seen similar problems. The mayor in that down shut down the boardwalk and beaches at night.
News 12 New Jersey reached out to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office for comment.
A spokesperson said in a statement, “Last year, former Attorney General [Gurbir] Grewal issued a landmark directive designed to promote public safety and limit unnecessary criminal prosecution of juveniles when their conduct could be addressed and resolved through other means. Nothing in AG Directive 2020-12 prevents law enforcement from taking appropriate action when necessary.”