By Donald Wittkowski
The police postscript for the summer of 2017 in Sea Isle City goes pretty much like this: Better behaved crowds, less underage drinking and fewer drunks on the road.
Using the experience they gained from dealing with an outbreak of rowdy teenage behavior in 2016, the police stepped up their game this summer and were able to keep things under control from the start, according to the city’s top cop.
“Overall, it was a pretty calm summer for us,” Police Chief Thomas D’Intino said.
Speaking to City Council during its meeting Tuesday, D’Intino gave a summer-end police report that illustrated a dramatic difference between 2016 and 2017.
“What we did last summer helped us this summer,” D’Intino said.
In 2016, police had their hands full responding to large groups of teenagers disrupting Sea Isle’s family-friendly atmosphere in popular tourist places such as the beaches, the Promenade and the downtown area.
An outbreak of underage drinking, unruly behavior, loitering and curfew violations mainly occurred over the Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends in 2016. Police responded with what D’Intino called a “zero tolerance” enforcement program consisting of arrests and summonses.
For 2017, the police department used a multifaceted approach to clamp down on bad behavior. Police patrolled the beaches at night while watching out for underage drinking and teen parties. Some officers also went undercover during the daytime – dressed as typical beachgoers – to enforce the laws.
During his remarks to Council, D’Intino acknowledged that police did not completely stop drinking on the beach. But he added that when compared to past years, the drinking “wasn’t as crazy” this summer.
“It was more of a p.r. thing than a let’s-issue-tickets thing,” D’Intino said of how police generally handled drinking on the beach.
He encouraged beachgoers to call police or notify lifeguards if they see someone drinking on the beach.
Also during his report to Council, D’Intino said this summer saw the return of an effective crime-fighting tool – a police substation near the Promenade to hold juvenile offenders in custody until their parents picked them up.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, police handled 62 cases involving juvenile offenders. Some teenagers were arrested, while others were detained at the police substation or City Hall to await their parents. Overall, the substation wasn’t needed as much as in 2016, D’Intino noted.
The city improved the lighting along the busiest parts of the Promenade as another way to fight crime. The areas include the Promenade’s hub at John F. Kennedy Boulevard.
Sea Isle’s capital plan includes $500,000 for better lighting along the entire Promenade over the next two years. However, the city took quicker action last year to brighten up the most popular sections of the oceanfront walkway.
At the start of the summer, city officials were hopeful that the upgraded lighting would help police with their enforcement efforts on the Promenade. The combination of better lighting and a bigger police presence on the Promenade did, in fact, work, D’Intino said.
“We had no major issues on the Promenade this summer,” he told the Council members.
Just like other beach towns along the Jersey Shore, Sea Isle becomes packed with a huge influx of vacationers during the peak summer season. On a typical summer weekend, about 50,000 to 60,000 visitors will pour into town, more than 20 times Sea Isle’s year-round population of 2,100.
The surge in population keeps the police department busy. D’Intino said police handled a total of 16,324 calls from Memorial Day to Labor Day, including 827 that came through the emergency 911 line.
While teenagers and crowd control were a major focus of the city’s crime-prevention efforts, the police department made 124 adult arrests over the summer. Typically, they were for drug offenses, simple assault and domestic problems, D’Intino said.
In an interview after the Council meeting, D’Intino said he was pleased with a sharp decline in arrests for driving under the influence. Of about 1,000 motor vehicle stops made by Sea Isle police over the summer, there were just 23 DWI arrests.
D’Intino attributed the decrease in DWI arrests to the city’s transportation options, including jitneys, taxis and the increasingly popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.
At the start of summer, Uber teamed up with the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers on a new initiative to prevent drunken driving at the Jersey Shore. The program was announced during a press conference in Sea Isle in June.
Under the program, Uber offered a $10 discount on rides anywhere in New Jersey to the first 2,000 people who took the HERO Campaign pledge to be a designated driver.
Uber also has partnered with the HERO Campaign to encourage more of its own drivers to take the HERO pledge. At the beginning of this summer, more than 1,500 Uber drivers in New Jersey had already signed the pledge, company spokesman Craig Ewer said.