Mayor Martin Pagliughi signed an executive order Friday restricting access to Avalon’s beaches and boardwalk at night in an effort, he said, “to disperse large groups of individuals who are congregating in unmanageable numbers on public property.”
Effective immediately, the Jersey Shore town’s beaches will be closed daily from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. and the boardwalk will be off limits to all but authorized personnel daily between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. The executive order, an extension of an emergency order that went into effect during the height of the pandemic, will continue until further notice.
Pagliughi, a Republican, called the order an “unfortunate measure” brought on by the Democratic governor and state legislature, which, he said, have neutered the ability of police to control the large groups of young people who have flocked to Avalon’s beaches, often until late in the evening.
“This unfortunate measure is a direct result of Governor Murphy’s destruction of effective enforcement of laws pertaining to juveniles, and the elimination of certain police powers,” Pagliughi said in a statement.
In December 2020, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal issued a directive establishing a stepped approach to interactions between police and juveniles, all designed to divert young people from the criminal justice system. Steps ranged from a pointed curbside warning by a police officer to the issuance of arrest warrants, depending on the severity of the incident in question.
At the time Grewal announced the directive, Murphy praised the attorney general “for his leadership in spearheading this progressive reform that further strengthens New Jersey’s ongoing efforts to eliminate longstanding disparities that have prevented young people in Black and brown communities from reaching their full potential.”
Grewal said that the point of the directive was to “take another step toward rehabilitating young people by diverting them away from formal court proceedings to community, family, and school support systems, while also improving outcomes for those who do enter the juvenile justice system. If we can turn a youth away from the juvenile justice system, we know they stand a much better chance of turning their life toward success in the long run.”
In Avalon, police said they were frustrated with the changes, citing an uptick in vandalism and property damage — excessive litter and car windows broken, for instance, and wooden fence posts strewn on the sand, which police said could be used to start fires.
Jeffrey Christopher, Avalon police chief, laid the blame on state political leaders who he said have “approved new legislation that requires police, in many cases, to issue only curbside warnings to minors for ordinance and disorderly persons offenses where there is no breach of peace, even when alcohol or cannabis use or possession is involved. "
By way of example, Christopher said in a statement, “if a juvenile is in possession of drugs or alcohol, police can do nothing more than issue a warning, and the juvenile is not obligated to provide his or her actual name. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 20 can only be issued written warnings for using alcohol or cannabis.
“We remain hopeful that some parents become more involved and help us maintain the quality of life in our community despite the state’s new hands-off policies.”
The Avalon Police Department website contains a page on cannabis and alcohol legislation and focuses attention on what the department says are elements of the law that make “enforcement difficult, if not impossible.” It calls on residents to contact Trenton.
Murphy’s office did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.
“The state is directly responsible for unlawful conduct which compromises public safety,” Pagliughi said, although he did call on parents to monitor their children more closely.
“Accountability and education begins at home, and some parents need to take an active approach in managing the activities and whereabouts of their juveniles,” the mayor said. “If they refuse, more drastic measures will be considered that would impact everyone as a result of actions of a few inconsiderate people.”