A viral video of a violent clash between a young woman and a temporary Wildwood police officer on the beach on Memorial Day weekend highlights the difficulties for New Jersey Shore towns as summer brings with it out-of-town crowds.
Some police departments more than double in size, hiring temporary help to boost their troops.
Such was the case with Wildwood officers who were patrolling the sand on the holiday weekend. One approached Emily Weinman, 20, of Philadelphia, and spotted Twisted Teas near where she sat on a beach blanket. Weinman said she had not been drinking and passed a breathalyzer test. She then cursed and insulted the officer and refused to give him her name. He, in turn, tackled and arrested her.
"That's it. You're about to get dropped," the officer said at one point before pushing Weinman to the ground.
Wildwood police officials said they are investigating the incident. They identified the officers as Class II Patrolmen Thomas Cannon, John Hillman, and Robert Jordan.
The escalation and use of force raised questions about the use of temporary officers, whom some derisively call Rent-a-Cops. But Shore towns rely on them to get through the summer when their populations swell with vacationers.
Wildwood, which attracts thousands of young people to its free beach each year, aggressively enforces underage drinking laws with help from temporary police. Last year, the city arrested 224 people on Memorial Day weekend alone. The number of arrests for this year's holiday was not immediately available.
Weinman was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, spitting at the officer, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstruction, and possession of alcohol by a minor.
The officers' handling of her arrest, which was captured by an onlooker, is under investigation by law enforcement authorities. Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. has defended the officers and said Weinman was the aggressor. Weinman's attorney said police overreacted to a minor infraction with excessive force. Wildwood police officials did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Wildwood is not unique in hiring seasonal police, called Class I and Class II officers. Class II officers go through the same police academy and receive the same training as their permanent colleagues. Class I officers receive less training and do not carry guns, but can write citations for offenses that include disorderly conduct and underage drinking.
North Wildwood employs 29 full-time officers. For the busy beach season, the department hired an additional 35 Class II officers and 15 Class I officers.
"Memorial Day weekend is always our busiest weekend," said Capt. John Stevenson, noting the influx of high school students after proms. This year, nice weather contributed. "The beach was packed. It's the most crowded weekend I've seen in years."
For four years, Margate has hired special officers. The department employs five special officers, one of whom works full-time. Capt. Ken Bergeron said Class II officers go through nearly the same training, three days a week for 26 weeks. The only difference between Class II and regular officers is that the former must leave their weapons at the station instead of taking them home.
"When they come, they're with a training officer for the first eight weeks," Bergeron said. "We have two in the academy right now, two that just got out of the academy."
Three of last year's Class II officers were hired as full-time officers.
"Ours have worked out very well for us," Bergeron said. "We've had no issues."
They are adequately trained to handle beach crowds, he said, but all officers benefit from experience.
"They're patrolling the beach with officers. They'll do a lot of things like parking enforcement, ordinance violations," Bergeron said.
Tom Gilbert, who was until recently head of the state's Tourism District and state police in Atlantic City, called the Class II officers a "force multiplier."
"They put more presence out on the street," Gilbert said.
In Ocean City, Capt. Steve Ang said 20 Class I and 20 Class II officers had been hired.
"The training is set forth by police training commission, Cape May County Police Academy. It goes through them. When they complete that they come here," Ang said, adding that Class I officers carry a baton and handcuffs.
"They have limited powers," Ang said. "They can do minor crimes, such as disorderly offenses, parking, motor vehicle. We assign a lot of them to the boardwalk or to four duty squads, parking complaints, minor police reports, traffic control."
The Class II officers are split up on the boardwalk, assist full-time officers, or are assigned to special duties such as the marine unit or the noise and alcohol unit.
"We've had a noise and alcohol unit since forever. We try to be proactive. Especially with us being a quote-unquote dry town. We've had zero tolerance. We ramp up with senior week," Ang said.
Asked about the training and experience level, Ang said, "It's like any individual you hire. You give them the best basic training, you vet them the best possible way you can before you bring them on, and you hope they utilize those skills in the proper manner.
"I think the system works very well. We haven't had many incidents like the one in Wildwood, and the jury is still out on that."
Ang said Memorial Day weekend was busy, with the town "probably as full as we could be," but no major incidents. "Everybody got on and off the island very safely."
In Atlantic City, Sgt. Kevin Fair said there were 51 current Class II officers, and 21 enrolled for the police academy to start later this month.
"I have not seen the full details of what occurred in Wildwood. It would be pure speculation on my part," Fair said. "I can tell you that we fully trust each academy that we utilize to train our officers and provide them with the necessary tools that they need to be successful once they graduate. It is our job to then cultivate that training."