Summer Cops Bolster Shore Towns' Presence on the Cheap - NBC New York

Summer Cops Bolster Shore Towns' Presence on the Cheap

In Wildwood, some seasonal officers tasked with the same duties as full-time cops make just $10 an hour. While at the training academy, they make less than minimum wage.

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    Full Released Video: Violent Arrest on Wildwood Beach

    Wildwood police released body camera footage of a violent confrontation between officers and a young woman on the beach on Saturday. The woman, who is 20, was being cited for having alcohol with her and refused to give officers her last name. One officer then punched her while taking her into custody.

    (Published Wednesday, May 30, 2018)

    Some seasonal cops in Wildwood get to wear the uniform, make arrests and carry firearms just like their full-time peers.

    They also train at the Cape May County Police Training Center alongside recruits readying for full-time positions.

    But the dozens of Class II "special law enforcement officers," or SLEOs, who have walked the Wildwood beach over the years, do it for much less money: $10 an hour, actually.

    That's just $1.40 more than the minimum wage in New Jersey. In fact, SLEOs make less than minimum wage while at the training academy, according to the Wildwood police department's website.

    The use of seasonal officers, those cops who patrol Jersey Shore towns during the busy summer months, has come under scrutiny following the violent arrest of a 20-year-old Philadelphia woman on the Wildwood beach May 26.

    Three officers involved in Weinman's arrest have been identified as Class II SLEOs Thomas Cannon, John Hillman and Robert Jordan. One of the seasonal officers is seen punching the slender, young woman two times in the head as she was sprawled out on the ground, feet from her 18-month-old child.

    Wildwood police are conducting an investigation of the confrontation, which was caught on video. The department also released nine minutes of body camera video. The mayor has defended the officers' actions. The Cape May County prosecutor's office said in a statement that it would allow the department's internal investigation to be completed before becoming involved.

    Weinman's attorney said the officers let a situation that began as an interaction allegedly involving underage drinking on the beach escalate into a violent take down. One of the officers could be heard on video saying, "You're about to get dropped."

    "It's an overreaction and an excessive use of force," attorney Stephen Dicht said in an interview. "If you refuse to give your name, then does that give them the right to pound you in the head?"

    A longtime civil rights attorney in Philadelphia, Paul Messing, questioned the officers' use of punches to the head.

    "The bigger issue in this case is the use of force, particularly blunt force trauma to the head, which is contrary to generally accepted police practices," Messing said. "You can't use any more force than is reasonably expected to affect an arrest."

    "The head punch, they're told not to do this. It's generally accepted police practice from the police academy on and one would hope that seasonal officers would be given the same level of training," he added.

    Hundreds of SLEOs go through New Jersey police academies every year. The Police Training Commission, which oversees county academies, certifies roughly 500 Class II and 250 Class I SLEOs each year, according to the New Jersey Attorney General's office.

    Class II SLEOs have broader authority than Class I. Class II officers carry firearms, make arrests and operate police equipment. Class I officers often act as crossing guards, parking enforcement and special event duties.

    "Both of these categories of SLEO are required to attend and successfully complete basic training," AG spokesman Peter Aseltine said in an email. "The basic course for SLEO I is only a few weeks in duration. The basic course for SLEO II is very similar to the basic course for police officers."

    Officials with Cape May County's police academy, which trains Wildwood's SLEOs, declined interview requests.

    The exact number of SLEOs patrolling Wildwood could not be determined. The police chief said Friday he did not know the exact number of Class I and Class II officers on the books currently. Other city officials did not return messages left or declined to comment.

    The AG's office could only give the number of SLEOs that the department has sent to train at the police academy: Seven Class II and six Class I officers enrolled and completed training this year. Another 16 recruits for Wildwood are actively enrolled in training, Aseltine said.

    Shore towns up and down the Jersey coast use SLEOs. In nearby North Wildwood, the police department hired 35 Class II and 15 Class I SLEOs to bolster their 29-officer full-time force, according to a Philly.com report.

    North Wildwood pays its seasonal officers $13 an hour. In Stone Harbor, Class II officers make $15 an hour.

    SLEOs can work up to 48 hours a week in Jersey shore communities. In other municipalities across the state, they can only work 20 hours a week.

    Before Wildwood seasonal officers start earning $10 an hour on the job, they receive $7.50 an hour during training, the police department says on its recruitment page. Recruits are not required to live in the municipality, but must be 18 years old, be able to read and write, have a high school diploma, and "be sound in body and in good health and have good moral character" in addition to passing background checks and physical evaluations.

    Once hired, they do not contribute to the state police pension fund. They can work multiple years.

    Wildwood's reliance on seasonal officers has grown in the last couple years.

    In 2014, the city budget included $550,000 in salaries and wages for the part-time cops. That number grew to $782,000 in 2015.

    In 2016 and 2017, Wildwood budgeted $790,000 each year for summer officers. However, budget documents indicate the city actually paid $845,000 in 2016 for the officers.