Brick Township council members approved a plan to empower lifeguards at the township’s three ocean beaches and Windward Beach to search coolers and containers to see if beachgoers are sneaking in alcohol, but not before one council member came out strongly against the plan.
The 6-1 vote Tuesday night means checkpoints will be set up at beach entrances this season where the alcohol ban will be enforced. Councilman Jim Fozman cast the only dissenting vote.
“Your cooler’s going to be searched, your backpack is going to be searched,” said Fozman. “We’re going to have a 17-year-old lifeguard doing this. They’re not trained – what if someone has a needle in there?”
Councilwoman Andrea Zapcic, a proponent of the plan who helped write the ordinance revision to put it into place, said the searches would not be invasive to beachgoers and would not put lifeguards at risk.
Fozman, however was not convinced the plan would be implemented problem-free. He said he wondered whether the alcohol searches could lead to enforcement of other banned items being brought onto the beach. Township code, he said, prohibits numerous activities from ball playing to boogie boarding, depending on the hour of the day.
“Let’s check for balls, let’s check for boogie boards, flotation devices, we’re going to check for all of that, right?” Fozman said in jest. “We’re not just going to profile somebody who has a large cooler and say, ‘hey, let’s go get that guy,’ right?”
Zapcic said that last summer, police were called to the beach 23 times. Six summonses were issued for various offenses, including three that were alcohol-related. Of the incidents, seven were related to alcohol in some way, said Zapcic.
“Someone under the influence that needs to be rescued from the ocean is putting lifeguards at risk,” said Zapcic, explaining that intoxicated swimmers in trouble often fight lifeguards trying to rescue them.
Last season, lifeguards had to rescue one intoxicated person who was “combative,” said Councilwoman Marianna Pontoriero.
Council President Paul Mummolo, a former lifeguard, concurred, saying he once had to rescue an intoxicated man from the water who would have died had he and a nurse been unable to revive him.
Zapcic said ordinances either banning coolers or authorizing searches on them are common. One version of the ordinance or another have been put into place in numerous Shore towns, including Seaside Park, Avon-by-the-Sea, Spring Lake, Bay Head, and Island Beach State Park.
“We specifically worked with [Police] Chief [James] Riccio in terms of how to best enforce this provision,” Pontoriero said. “In my opinion, one incident regarding alcohol is too much. If you shouldn’t be operating a vehicle while under the influence, you shouldn’t be swimming in a body of water, either.”