Surf City Police Chief Is All About Customer Service

Aug 16, 2017

Jack Casella always tries to understand why people do what they do. It’s a trait that served him well during a nearly 30-year career as a Surf City police officer, and will continue as the acting police chief, a post he was sworn into earlier this summer.

“There has been a shift in responsibility, compassion, consideration and honor,” he said, noting all anyone has to do is look at the state of society. “People are scrambling all day, and see so much more than we did in the past. There’s no time for a break, so they put a Band-Aid on it.”

It’s gotten to the point where people can’t turn off their real-life lifestyle, or stress, even when they are 6 miles at sea on vacation, he said. It’s what sometimes causes the rift between locals and seasonal visitors. Casella, a lifelong Island resident, has a way to handle that, too.

“It’s about educating people,” he said, noting most people don’t know the rules and regulations of things like how pedestrians have the right of way is really intended to work. “My guys are all about customer service. I tell them (to) treat everyone like they’re your grandmother until you can’t.”

He said there are always going to be people who respond well when approached about a rule or law they’re breaking, and those who don’t. It’s a matter of knowing how to handle the situation before it gets agitated. Some of the most common summer situations are beach spreading; parking in the wrong direction; pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists co-existing; and alcohol on the beach.

Beach spreading is the act of beachgoers setting up enormous, sprawling tents or canopies on the beach and building small beach villages they claim for themselves, family and friends all day. It’s become so common and such a problem that Belmar officials are expected to ban the tents from Memorial Day through Labor Day, beginning next year. Although social media has been alive with comments about the large tents on beaches in Surf City, no one has brought the topic directly to the borough council.

“I can tell you how we handle that,” Casella said. “We have a general ordinance that allows us to remove any item that is potentially hazardous on the beach.”

Anything occurring on the beach is first handled by the badge checkers or lifeguards before the police are called in to help, he said, noting one of the biggest and potentially dangerous issues on the beach is alcohol. Since June, Surf City police have issued more than 20 summonses for alcohol on the beach, Casella said, even with signs at beach entry points announcing it’s prohibited.

“We try to educate people about what alcohol does to their body,” he said. “Most people think alcohol makes them warm; it does the opposite.”

Still, some beachgoers pack large coolers with alcohol, and either openly drink on the beach or try hiding it in a red Solo cup.

“Our specials are really good,” he said of the special officers who generally are the line of defense for the beach badge checkers and lifeguards. “Their work is making a difference.”

Away from the beach, the police see a lot of parking in the wrong direction and pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists who have a hard time sharing the road.

“We try to resolve parking in the wrong direction by educating the individual and working with them,” he said, explaining cops will canvass a street to find the owner of the car and provide the opportunity for them to park it in the right direction. Often, however, the car’s owner is at the beach and no one at the house has the keys or knows where the keys are. Still, that willingness to do the right thing goes a long way, he said.

As a police officer, Casella has seen it all, even in the dead of winter when most people presume Island cops aren’t busy.

“The heat (of summer) just makes it worse,” he said. “Whenever you add heat to something, it’s going to get hot. When the temps change, it doesn’t get easier; it’s just different. I’ve seen the best and worst in people. I want to help. That’s how I train my guys, too.”

— Gina G. Scala

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