NEW JERSEY – Senator Anthony M. Bucco and Senator Declan O’Scanlon said it’s time to undo some mistakes that were made with juvenile criminal justice reforms to help New Jersey stay safe this summer.
“We warned two years ago that stripping police of their ability to hold law-breaking teens accountable would lead to chaos in our communities, especially those with beaches and boardwalks during the summer season,” said Bucco (R-25). “That proved to be the case in several of our shore towns over the Memorial Day weekend. The problem of drunk, rampaging teens is so bad that many towns are now imposing curfews on their beaches and boardwalks that will impact families and businesses as well. It’s also proving to be a problem in other towns across New Jersey that have parks and other recreational facilities where teens congregate. The Legislature has an obligation to fix its mistake and allow law enforcement officers to actually enforce the law.”
In 2021, Governor Murphy signed a cannabis law that includes a provision that a law enforcement officer is guilty of the third-degree crime of Official Deprivation of Rights if, during the course of an investigation of suspected underage possession of alcohol or marijuana, the officer knowingly, but not necessarily intentionally, violates any of the new procedural requirements mandated by the new law.
For example, an officer accused of detaining a person longer than necessary to investigate a complaint, which is a subjective determination in many cases, may be sentenced to between three and five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
“Teenagers are well aware that police officers aren’t going to risk their careers or their freedom to stop them from drinking or smoking pot in public,” said O’Scanlon (R-13). “The Legislature gave kids an inch and they’ve taken mile after mile of our beaches and boardwalks. If we do nothing, we risk doing real harm to the Jersey Shore and its reputation as a safe and family-friendly vacation destination. It’s not too late to reverse course and help our shore communities to stay safe this summer.”
Ocean City reported nearly 1,000 calls to police over the Memorial Day weekend for teenagers engaged in underage drinking, vandalism, shoplifting, and assault.
In response, the city, like many other shore towns, is imposing a curfew for minors, closing beaches to everyone in the evening, and prohibiting the carrying of backpacks on the beach or boardwalk, the Senators said.
In Ocean City’s announcement, its mayor said, in part, “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.”
“We know that much of the rowdy behavior that’s causing problems in Ocean City and elsewhere involves underage drinking that police are now powerless to stop,” Bucco said. “The simple solution is to let police do their jobs again. We knew the limitations on police would be a problem, it’s proven to be a problem, so let’s fix it.”
O’Scanlon and Bucco sponsor legislation, S-642, that would remove criminal liability for law enforcement officers who have an investigative encounter with an underage person for possession of alcohol or cannabis unless civil rights are violated.
Even though the bill was first introduced more than two years ago, the Democrats who control the New Jersey Legislature have refused to post it for consideration, the Senators said.