Point Pleasant Beach officials on Tuesday night introduced a new ordinance regulating behavior on the borough’s boardwalk and both public and private beaches after crime has skyrocketed and police officers report being subject to daily doses of disrespect and foul behavior.
Councilman Douglas Vitale started a borough council meeting by reading a letter penned by Police Chief Joseph A. Michigan. The letter described a summer characterized by raucous behavior from visitors and a breakdown of respect for authority, as well as triple and double digit increases in borough ordinance violations and arrests.
“In my 25 years of experience, I have never seen the level of disrespect toward my officers and our residents as this year,” Michigan’s letter said.
Vitale said data showed Point Pleasant Beach police, over the last week, issued 605 borough ordinance violation summonses, a 228 percent increase over the same week in 2019, and made 73 arrests of criminal suspects, representing a 61 percent increase over last year.
Michigan’s letter said there has been a marked increase in the number of intoxicated people present on the beach and boardwalk, as well as those openly drinking and smoking marijuana. Police officers are “constantly being called racists” by visitors and experiencing people walking up and sticking smartphone cameras in their faces, the chief said, in what seems to be attempts to provoke altercations.
“This narrative is garbage,” said Michigan, in response to those who claim the borough’s police department is racially biased.
The department recently attracted publicity online after the video of the arrest of a Garfield man allegedly seen drinking alcohol on the boardwalk went viral.
Borough officials took action at the Tuesday night meeting to strengthen security immediately, and introduced an ordinance that is aimed at cracking down on the reputed incidents of poor behavior on the beaches and boardwalk. The council authorized the hiring of six new full-time police officers, and formally requested the assistance of officers from the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department and agents of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office to help with “manpower and logistical support on weekends,” Vitale said.
Michigan said the department is installing more cameras, adding more beach patrols and establishing new foot posts along the boardwalk.
The most significant measure passed by the council on Tuesday night was the introduction of a replacement for the borough’s entire beach ordinance, which establishes rules for conduct on both public and private beaches in town. Point Pleasant Beach operates a municipal beach on Maryland Avenue, but most of its beachfront is operated by private companies, the vast majority under the owner of Jenkinson’s Boardwalk.
Under the ordinance, which was passed after Mayor Paul Kanitra voted in favor of it following a tie vote among the borough’s six council members, beaches will be open between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily between May 1 and Oct. 15, and no one will be allowed on the beach after 7 p.m. except during special events or if they are actively engaged in surfing, fishing or diving.
Coolers will be limited to nine quarts or 13 inches in height, length or width. Serving trays, pots, pans or utensils for serving food are also banned, as well as cooking or preparing food on the beach. Canopy shades (often referred to as beach tents) will be limited to 7-feet by 7-feet, and any canopies which include walls or actual tent enclosures are prohibited. Tables will also be banned from the beach.
On coolers: “If each person brings one of these coolers, mom, dad and the kids, I think it is more than enough to sustain a family for five hours,” said Councilwoman Arlene Testa, demonstrating on the meeting’s Zoom video feed how more than eight bottles of water, plus sandwiches and snacks, can fit in a single cooler that is of legal size.
Additionally, the ordinance specifically prohibits littering, the smoking of cigarettes and electronic cigarettes or cigars, as well as making “any loud noise, sound or music to the annoyance of another person, or the use of loud, profane or indecent language.”
The sale of any items, including food, on the beach is prohibited except if a business is licensed to do so by the borough.
Coolers, under the ordinance, may not be inspected for contraband such as alcohol by anyone under the age of 18.
“We should not have 14 and 15-year-olds checking coolers,” said Kanitra, noting that people younger than 18 are not able to work in liquor stores or at bars. If alcohol or a controlled substance is found in the possession of a person at the beach, the beach operator may be charged with a number of criminal offenses under state law, enabled by the ordinance.
“If people are going to come here and enjoy our beautiful beach, they have to respect our beach and respect our residents,” Kanitra said. “If you can’t, I don’t know what to tell you.”