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The Ocean City Boardwalk attracts throngs of tourists.

By MADDY VITALE and DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Memorial Day weekend brought thousands of visitors to the shore. Ocean City’s Boardwalk was filled with tourists to celebrate the holiday.

But large groups of teens got rowdy. Fights erupted on the Boardwalk and the normally family-friendly atmosphere changed dramatically for some. Friday night ended with some teens detained by police and then turned over to their parents for offenses ranging from fighting, shoplifting and disorderly persons offenses.

In the most serious incident, a 15-year-old boy whose name was not released due to his age was stabbed Saturday night. The injuries were not determined to be life-threatening. The suspect is unknown at the time.

Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian spoke about the chaotic weekend during a Memorial Day service at Veterans Memorial Park. He reinforced what he said the day before in a statement to the community — that Ocean City is a safe place to live and visit.

“Ocean City is one of the safest towns we have in New Jersey,” he said, noting that social media has been inaccurately portraying the town as unsafe.

Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian says Ocean City is one of the safest places in the state.

Gillian told OCNJDaily.com on Monday that the Ocean City police department and the city will continue their strategy to keep the community safe.

Measures have been implemented by the city and police department since 2021 to deal with troubling behavior.

The city cracked down on rowdy teens in 2023 by closing the beaches at 8 p.m., shutting down Boardwalk bathrooms at 10 p.m. and imposing an 11 p.m. curfew on juveniles on the Ocean City streets and the Boardwalk.

Gillian said the policies in place in 2023 remain in place this summer.

“The curfew will be the same and the backpack ban will be the same. We will continue to do what we have been doing and enhance upon it,” he said. “It’s always about safety.”

Cape May County Commission Director Leonard Desiderio, who is also Sea Isle City’s mayor, issued a strong warning as well. He said that Sea Isle will not tolerate rowdy behavior “one ounce.”

Although Ocean City and Wildwood were gripped by trouble over the Memorial Day weekend, Sea Isle avoided any serious disruptions, he said.

“Thankfully, here in Sea Isle everyone was safe,” Desiderio told the crowd at the city’s Memorial Day ceremony.

Sea Isle Police Chief Anthony Garreffi said there were big crowds throughout the holiday weekend, but no major trouble.

“We experienced a high number of juveniles and adults. Everyone, for the most part, was well-behaved,” Garreffi said in an interview.

As of Monday morning, there were no criminal arrests made in Sea Isle over the weekend other than some motorists being charged for driving under the influence, Garreffi said.

Sea Isle has pursued a “zero tolerance” strategy to prevent troublemaking teens from disrupting the summer vacation season during the last four years.

Heading into the summer of 2023, Sea Isle enacted a 10 p.m. curfew for minors under the age of 18 and a backpack ban between the hours of 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. for juveniles and adults to curb unruly behavior.

“You can’t change behavior, but you can be there to do the best you can when it happens,” Garreffi said of the police department’s efforts to respond to trouble in Sea Isle.

Fights and a stabbing erupt on the Ocean City Boardwalk over the Memorial Day weekend.

Click on link for video of crowds running off the Boardwalk: https://www.tiktok.com/@jpm5041/video/7373114144033099051

Like Ocean City, Wildwood experienced some troubles with large groups of juveniles gathering over the weekend.

On Monday morning, the Wildwood Police Department declared a state of emergency and temporarily restricted access to the Boardwalk “to ensure the safety of residents and visitors,” according to a statement from Wildwood’s spokeswoman Lisa Fagan.

“The state of emergency was a proactive measure that was lifted a few hours later, and the Boardwalk has since reopened,” the statement said.

Fagan said that “although there were no major incidents reported, the measure was taken by the City of Wildwood Police Department to give them another tool they could use to control any crowds of young people from gathering.”

Separate from his comments about Sea Isle City, Desiderio issued a statement as commission director about troubles in Cape May County shore towns over the holiday weekend.

“I watched with the same horror that every parent, resident and visitor in Cape May County had this past weekend as videos were posted of a few violent, lawless young people walking our boardwalks looking for innocent victims to terrorize and assault.  We also saw this in other parts of the state on other boardwalks,” Desiderio said.

Desiderio said that he will be meeting with the county prosecutor and county sheriff to talk about how county resources can be utilized to supplement local law enforcement efforts.

Back in 2021, he held a meeting with municipalities and local legislators “to try to find a workable solution to the problem.”

“These issues arose after new laws out of Trenton took the handcuffs off of disorderly persons and effectively put them on the very police officers who we trust to keep peace and good order,” Desiderio said. “Trenton has everything backwards.  So far, despite the efforts of our local legislators, our pleas for help have mostly fallen on deaf ears in Trenton.”

Cape May County Commission Director and Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio will meet with county law enforcement for more public safety resources.

Desiderio said he will again be reaching out to all of the local mayors and local legislators.

“We all have a right to live peaceably and we must demand that Trenton allow our police officers to do their jobs in order to maintain law and order,” he said. “We will not tolerate this, and we will not let these thugs steal summer from our families, our businesses, and our visiting friends.”

Meanwhile, Gillian expressed his confidence in Ocean City’s police department by calling it “one of the best.”

“We have plenty of officers and we have strategies and policies in place. We have an island that we have to protect, and we’ve done a great job,” Gillian said. “Every now and then, you get people that come from other cities and they want to cause chaos and they come in and they leave.”

He continued, “I was on the Boardwalk Friday night and I was on the Boardwalk Saturday and Sunday night. There are a lot of kids up there, but 90 percent of them are good. We’re going to be fine. Memorial Day is always difficult.”

Gillian reiterated what he said Sunday, when he issued a statement, “Ocean City will always be welcoming to all guests, but I want to send a clear message to parents and to teens: ‘If you don’t want to behave, don’t come.”

Anyone with information about the stabbing in Ocean City is asked to call the Ocean City Police Department’s Detective Bureau at 609-525-9129.