By Donald Wittkowski
At the start of the summer tourism season, Sea Isle City’s police department promised a get-tough policy against drinking on the beach to protect the family-friendly image the resort town has cultivated.
The number of summonses that were issued to people for having open containers of alcohol on the beach and in other public places in town shows that was no empty threat.
In all, 509 summonses for public drinking were handed out this summer, compared to 94 in 2017, Police Chief Tom McQuillen said.
“The numbers speak for themselves. We said we were going to do it, and we did,” he said.
McQuillen stressed that drinking would not be tolerated on the beaches when he took over as the city’s new police chief in May.
During Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the bustling summer tourism season, police launched an aggressive enforcement program following complaints from the community about public drinking.
“For years, we have been fielding complaints about drinking on the beach. We got to the point where we were going to do something about it,” McQuillen said.
He noted that alcohol consumption is often accompanied by other boorish behavior, including foul language and rowdiness. Police targeted the beaches and other popular tourist areas where families and children may have been exposed to public drinking.
“Everyone is entitled to the same peaceful experience on the beach. We were there to make sure that happened,” McQuillen said.
Most of the 509 summonses for public drinking were issued on the beaches. McQuillen said people of all ages, not just juveniles, received summonses, which carry a $110 fine.
“There was no specific demographic. We applied the ordinance equally across the board,” McQuillen said of the people who were given summonses. “We enforced it equally.”
Sea Isle added two new all-terrain vehicles this summer to help police patrol the beaches. The beach vehicles allowed them to cover more territory, much faster.
In the past, just one or two police officers were assigned to watch for public drinking on the beaches. This year, there were four officers, McQuillen said.
Not all of the police officers were in uniform. Undercover officers dressed in shorts and T-shirts discreetly walked the beach during the first week of summer, looking for drinking. Once they spotted it, they would use their cellphones to call uniformed officers who were close by.
McQuillen explained that the police department was careful not to be too heavy-handed in clamping down on public drinking. At the beginning of summer, he emphasized that Sea Isle did not want to acquire the reputation of being “a police state” that is unfriendly to tourists.
“I guess the message would be, we want you to come here and have a good time. But we want you to obey our ordinances,” McQuillen said.
Christopher Glancey, president of the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization, said the local business community supported the police department’s crackdown on public drinking. He met privately with McQuillen to discuss the program.
Glancey noted that police have to walk a “fine line” to enforce the no-drinking laws without being seen as overzealous.
“We want everyone to follow the laws, but we also want everyone to enjoy their summer vacations here,” he said. “We also want people to understand the family-friendly image that is Sea Isle City.”
Glancey praised McQuillen for implementing new public outreach programs to promote closer ties between the police department and the local community. For instance, Sea Isle’s National Night Out, an annual community event that lets the public interact with police officers, drew a record crowd when it was held in August, Glancey pointed out.
Moving forward, McQuillen said he hopes this summer’s campaign against public drinking will help to educate everyone about Sea Isle’s laws. He also wants to build public awareness by having more signs posted in local liquor stores reminding people not to drink on the beaches.
“My hope is that the word got out and people know that you can’t drink on the beach. If you do, you will potentially be subjected to a ticket,” he said.
McQuillen plans to meet with his officers during the off-season to review the enforcement program.
“The focus is, what did we do right, what did we do potentially wrong and what can we do better,” he said.
However, he pledged that police will be back on the beach again next summer issuing summonses for public drinking.
“We’re going to continue to take steps to address it,” he said. “Everyone needs to know the rules.”