Breaking Down Ocean City's New Curfew and Backpack Rules

Everything you need to know

Ocean City’s new rules regarding teen gatherings and backpacks on the Boardwalk have received an outrageous amount of attention the last few days.

In case you’ve been sleeping under said Boardwalk, here’s a quick primer: Ocean City, limited by state laws passed in 2021 to arrest and charge juveniles, has had to resort to encouraging teens to gather en masse on the beach at night, lest they do it on the Boardwalk and irritate the general public with rowdy antics. That plan worked reasonably well the last couple of years, but Memorial Day weekend took things to another level, forcing police to respond to 999 incidents, including for public vandalism, assaults, and confiscation of a firearm.

On Tuesday, Mayor Gillian issued a damning statement of the behavior, which included the following firm language:

“We want parents, grandparents and families to know that we’re all in this together, and we will be holding people accountable. I also want to send a message to our governor and legislators that the laws they forced on all municipalities are a threat to public safety, and they deprive families of the opportunity to enjoy the Jersey Shore.”

Mayor vs. the State Part Deux, and I’m here for it.

Here are the 4 major changes:

  • Beaches close at 8 p.m. to all

  • Boardwalk bathrooms close at 10 p.m. to all

  • Juvenile curfew at 11:00 p.m.

  • No backpacks (or other large bags) on the Boardwalk, beach, or beach end streets after 8:00 p.m. for all from May 15 - September 15

City Council met in an emergency meeting today (Thursday) to pass ordinances for the teen curfew at 11:00 p.m. and banning backpacks (and other bags) on the Boardwalk and beaches past 8:00 p.m.

Here’s a breakdown of the lengthy ordinance, and our interpretation of the intent of some of the language.

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On the need to convene the emergency meeting

It’s clear the city views Father’s Day Weekend (June 16) as the next potential weekend for a problem, and they want to act quickly to get rules enacted and publicized prior to then.

Here’s how they described the events seen over Memorial Day weekend: There were “unprecedented crowds” involving juveniles which “endangered juveniles, first responders, and innocent bystanders” and “imperiled the general welfare of Ocean City and the citizens and visitors to the city.” Allowing these acts to continue would constitute a “substantial harm to the public interest.”

That public interest being not only Boardwalk patrons (ie families) and store owners, but also juveniles themselves “whose inexperience renders them particularly vulnerable to becoming participants in unlawful activities, particularly unlawful drug activities and to being victimized by older perpetrators of crime.”

In short, would you want your daughter or son in this fracas?

@tmzsport

Ocean City NJ wtf is going on #ocnj #oceancity #oceancitynj #teens #wtf #dyp #fyp #wow #mayhem #mckentyteam #@McKenty Team NJ Real Estate

Probably not. And so, the need to convene quickly.

The Curfew

Ocean City is adamant about maintaining its “reputation as America’s Greatest Family Resort.”

You don’t commit to being a dry town only to have to stand by idly while teenagers recreate the scene outside Sea Isle bars in front of the city’s crown jewel— the Boardwalk. Never mind that many of the participants are well under the legal drinking age.

The city noted that “juvenile violence and crime has increased in Ocean City in the past few years” and that the previous efforts of allowing supervised chaos on the beach proved less effective over Memorial Day Weekend.

Beaches will close at 8:00 p.m. and Boardwalk bathrooms will close at 10:00 pm for all.

The Ordinance:

  • Any individual under 18, between 11:00 p.m. and 6 a.m., is not allowed to:

    • be in public street or place

    • to remain in a motor vehicle (operating or parked) in a public place

    • remain on the premises of an establishment

  • Parents, guardians and caretakers, including owners and drivers of vehicles, and owners and employees of businesses, who knowingly allow the kids to break these rules are also liable

The Penalties:

  • First step is two curbside warnings, where the officer will collect name and explanation from the offender and tell them to go home

  • After the second warning, the offender is taken in for a stationhouse adjustment and their parents or guardians are called

    • No summons or juvenile delinquency is issued

  • If the parent or guardian violated any part of this section, they will be fined under the following schedule:

    • First penalty: $250-$500

    • Second penalty within one year: $500-$1,000

    • Third penalty within one year of two or more more violations: $1,000-$1,500

    • Adults can be guilty for separate offenses

Exceptions:

  • Accompanied by an adult

  • Traveling to or from work, or working

  • On a nearby neighbor’s sidewalk or premises until that neighbor chooses to complain about the juvenile’s presence past curfew

  • Emergency situations

  • Sanctioned recreational activities

  • Errand at parent’s discretion

  • Interstate travel (such as arriving in town at 11:30 p.m. on a Friday night)

  • Juvenile is exercising their first amendment right to assemble— but their parent or guardian most notify police 24 hours in advance and comply with all New Jersey regulations

It seems police will also have some discretion to enforce these rules, though the city was thorough in listing exceptions.

The process for enforcement will consist of the police officer asking the age of the offender and reason for being out, a curbside warning and being asked to leave if it’s the first or second warning, and then, if more than two warnings, the stationhouse adjustment. It is unlawful to lie about age or address.

The Backpacks

This one is a bit more straightforward and, based on my surveying of Facebook comments (always a great way to make civic decisions!), the most controversial and limiting. This applies to all persons (adults and teens):

  • All bags larger than 8 × 6 × 8 are prohibited on the Boardwalk, beach, and beach end streets between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. May 15 through September 15

    • Includes backpacks, fanny packs, cinch bags, coolers, briefcases*, luggage of any kid, computer bags, or any bag large than the permissible size

    • Can’t be carried, worn, placed in or on any of these locations

Exceptions will include medical devices, broadcasting equipment (gotta get that 6 ABC live shot at the Music Pier), police officers, and active fishing on the beach.

*If you’re carrying a briefcase on the beach after 8 p.m. you are either a lunatic or a killer.

Penalties are relatively minor here: Two warnings will be given where feasible (unless you are carrying something truly terrible), but they include signs and announcements. You will be asked to leave the beach or boardwalk. Failure to comply will result in a “Breach of Peace” with the fines as follows:

  • First offense, $25-$50

  • Second offense within one year: $35-$65

  • Third offense within one year of two or more offenses: $50-$100

Juveniles will get two curbside warnings and the opportunity to remove or get rid of the item, and then the stationhouse adjustment process if they don’t comply.

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