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VILLAS - In a release, the Lower Township Police Department issued the following statement regarding an incident at the Sunset Beach Gift Shop:

In response to recent reports on social media regarding an incident that occurred this weekend, we are releasing this statement.

On May 16, the Lower Township Police Department responded to the Sunset Beach Gift Shop, located at 502 Sunset Blvd, Cape May Point. This response was based on multiple anonymous tips received that both the business and miniature golf course were operating in violation of the governor’s COVID-19-related executive orders.

Upon arrival, the Lower Township officer located the owner of the business and advised him that he was there based on anonymous tips that the store and golf course were open in violation of the executive orders. The owner said he believed that his business could open because he sold, what he considered to be, essential products, as defined by the executive order.

After receiving this information, the officer walked through the store to see whether the products being sold would meet the definition under the executive order. The officer contacted the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office and advised of the facts surrounding the complaint.

In accordance with the governor’s COVID-19 executive order, the officer was advised that the gift shop did not meet the requirements to remain open as a walk-in business, but could remain open for curbside service and the miniature golf course could not remain open.

The officer, in a sympathetic manner, relayed this information to the owner, and the officer politely advised the customers that the store would have to close and that they would have to leave the premises after completing their purchases. The customers on the golf course were advised that the golf course was closing, but they could finish their games.

While the officer was carrying out his duty, the owner and his adult son became very agitated and responded negatively to the officer, including insulting him in public, which lead to a brief exchange of words outside of the business. This, in turn, caused the officer to tell his son that if he did not calm down and stop interfering with his ability to communicate with his department that he would be arrested for disorderly conduct. No summons was issued. 

It was clear that the owners of the business were blaming their frustration with being unable to remain fully open on the officer and the situation became very contentious.

During this entire incident, the officer continued to explain to the owner and his son that this was not a decision made by him, he was simply enforcing the executive order, and he understood their frustration.

After review of the body camera the officer was wearing, it was evident that he did everything he could to deescalate the situation while carrying out his sworn duties.

We all realize that these are very trying and difficult times for everyone. This was a very unfortunate situation that nobody wanted to be in, but as police officers, we have a sworn duty to uphold the laws given to us.

As the chief of police, it can sometimes be difficult to manage the governor’s executive orders and still maintain a positive relationship with our community and local businesses.

These are very trying times for everyone in this country, especially for law enforcement, who are challenged in maintaining a very delicate balance between enforcing the state’s laws, doing their job to protect the communities they serve, and going home safe every day to their families. This job is all about the relationships we build with the community, and we want nothing more than our communities and businesses to open up so that everyone can get back to work and enjoy the normal pleasures in life.

We also cannot forget that we are facing an unprecedented time with this virus and we must remain safe and smart on how we accomplish this so that none of us contract this virus and affect our friends and families.

We understand that the business owner simply wants to provide for his family, workers and the community he lives in; but that does not justify insulting a police officer simply trying to honor his oath to enforce the law.