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Sea Isle City Lt. James McQuillen, second from left, and Cpl. Dustin Phillips of the Cape May County Sheriff's Department have a friendly chat with a group of teenagers while patrolling the Promenade on the night of Aug. 15.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Patrick Maychak, a teenager from West Chester, Pa., has been hanging out with his friends while enjoying his summer vacation at the shore.

“We walk around, get something to eat, chill out and talk about things,” he said Saturday night on the Promenade in Sea Isle City.

Harmless stuff, for sure. Patrick, 14, though, can’t understand while some other teenagers have been disrupting Sea Isle with rowdy behavior ranging from foul language and underage drinking to vandalism and theft.

“It’s really disrespectful that they would do that,” Patrick said. “It really stinks that people at that age and generation are going crazy.”

Patrick and his friends were having a friendly chat with Sea Isle Police Lt. James McQuillen and Cpl. Dustin Phillips of the Cape May County Sheriff’s Department about how they were spending their vacation – without getting in trouble.

But that is not always the case with other groups of teens. Following growing complaints from local residents about rowdy behavior, Sea Isle is taking action to prevent unruly groups of teenagers and young adults from roaming through town at night.

Sea Isle Police Chief Tom McQuillen, Lt. McQuillen’s older brother, explained that there are more officers on patrol now to keep an eye on typical hotspots for troublesome teens, including the beaches, the Promenade and the downtown business district.

“We are up here with a strong presence. Wherever you look, you see an officer,” McQuillen said Saturday night in an interview on the Promenade, a popular spot for tourists and teenagers.

The oceanfront Promenade is a popular spot for teenagers and young adults.

Officers from the Cape May County Sheriff’s Department will supplement local police on weekend nights to give Sea Isle a bigger law enforcement presence for the rest of the summer.

In addition to stepped-up police patrols, Sea Isle is closing the entrances to the beaches now at 10 p.m. to prevent large groups of teenagers or young adults from congregating on the beaches. Sea Isle already closes the beaches at 10 p.m. as part of a standard curfew.

At the same time, police don’t want to appear to be heavy-handed, so they are also using more subtle forms of law enforcement to keep kids from getting out of control, McQuillen noted.

“It’s kind of like reaching out to people in a positive, proactive way,” he said.

Police, for instance, may simply introduce themselves to teens and engage in casual conversation, much like Lt. McQuillen and Cpl. Phillips were doing with Patrick Maychak and his friends.

“Basically, we’re just letting them know that we’re here,” Lt. McQuillen said.

“We are building a relationship,” Phillips added.

Another officer was seen Saturday night shooting hoops with a group of teenagers at the basketball courts on John F. Kennedy Boulevard.

Mayor Leonard Desiderio, center, exchanges high-fives with kids on the Promenade.

Mayor Leonard Desiderio, who joined police officers for a walk on the Promenade on Saturday night, high-fived and fist-bumped with teens while talking to them about school, sports and their vacations.

Desiderio said that Sea Isle welcomes all visitors, but stressed that “this is not the place to be” if someone is going to be disruptive.

“We’re on that. This is going to be good,” he predicted of the outcome of Sea Isle’s efforts to stop rowdy behavior.

Sea Isle has already begun planning for next summer to have more police patrols and other safeguards in place before teenagers and young adults can disrupt the vacation season, he said.

“So when summer comes, we will be well-prepared,” Desiderio said.

Desiderio has been talking to state Attorney General Andrew Bruck, Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland and members of the state Legislature for tougher measures to respond to rowdy behavior, including a better system to keep track of the troublemakers and stiffer fines for underage drinking.

Police Chief Tom McQuillen, speaking during the Aug. 10 City Council meeting, discusses steps that are being taken to prevent disruptive behavior in town.

There have been reports of bad behavior among teenagers at other Jersey Shore towns this summer, including Avalon and Ocean City. In Sea Isle, there hasn’t been a dramatic increase in the number of complaints or incidents, Chief McQuillen said.

However, when something does happen, it often gets magnified on social media, creating the perception that things are a lot worse than they really are, he pointed out.

McQuillen also said there are larger crowds in Sea Isle this summer compared to the relatively quiet vacation season in 2020 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Desiderio and McQuillen repeatedly said they believe it is only a relatively small number of teens or young people causing most of the trouble in Sea Isle, not a widespread outbreak of bad behavior.

Sea Isle is known for having a robust bar scene, but city officials also market the town as a family-friendly vacation haven. On Saturday night, parents with young children danced together during a concert at the Excursion Park Band Shell that was part of Sea Isle’s “Free Concert Under the Stars” summer series.

Just steps from Excursion Park, groups of teenagers and older adults were enjoying a stroll on the oceanfront Promenade during a sultry night. Joining them was a large number of officers from Sea Isle and the Cape May County Sheriff’s Department.

Jim French, a vacationer from Glenside, Pa., said he always feels safe in Sea Isle, but found it reassuring that so many police officers were out on the Promenade to keep order.

“There are nice beaches, it’s safe and there are plenty of people from all ages having a good time here,” French said of why he chooses Sea Isle as his vacation destination. “But we did notice that there is a bigger police presence here. Do we want to see it reduced? Absolutely not.”

Children and parents dance during one of Sea Isle’s family-friendly concerts at the Excursion Park Band Shell.