Memorial Day weekend was busy for police in Cape May County: Middle Township police responded to a chase in which suspects fired a shotgun at another car’s occupants. Wildwood police responded to a double stabbing and made five pages worth of arrests, from arson to littering.
South Jersey has its share of crime. But the crush of summer tourists always increases the numbers.
Most crime in South Jersey involves nonviolent property theft, according to statistics compiled by the State Police. But a stolen bicycle or missing wallet can still ruin a vacation.
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Police say there are ways tourists can guard against this kind of opportunistic crime.
“When I go on vacation, I’m always watching,” Wildwood Police Chief Robert Regalbuto said.
People might be more inclined to leave possessions behind or unattended in unfamiliar settings, he said.
“Recently we had a woman who left her backpack with a laptop inside at an arcade while playing a video game. She walked away from it after the game, and someone took it,” he said.
Police were able to identify the suspect and return the woman’s belongings.
Resort towns such as Wildwood typically beef up their police forces to help keep visitors safe and deter crime.
“We have extra officers on patrol, especially on the Boardwalk and the pedestrian malls,” he said. “Our officers will be working hard. We want people to come down and be safe.”
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Businesses, too, are more vigilant about petty crime such as shoplifting.
At the gift and decor shop Island Art in Stone Harbor, owner Spencer Cohen said he trains his employees to be vigilant about inventory and what’s on display.
“It’s all about the employees. That’s the No. 1 thing. We prosecute as much as we can. But shoplifting only happens as much as you know about it. Inventory control can be tough,” he said. “And most of the people who steal don’t need it.”
Tourists who spent a rainy afternoon this week at Naval Air Station Wildwood’s Aviation Museum in Lower Township said South Jersey has a reputation for being a safe place to visit.
“We stay at one of the RV campground resorts. It always feels safe,” said Bowen Stone, of Wilmington, Delaware, who is spending the week with his family in Cape May County.
A woman was arrested after a fake bomb threat was made at the Ocean County Mall, authorities said.
Stone’s wife, Shelley, said they never let their guard down completely while traveling.
“We’re fairly observant. We keep our city-heads on,” she said.
Keith Heilmann and Jessica Mertel, of Baltimore, said they take simple steps to guard against potential crime. Mertel said she typically carries her purse around her neck instead of on her shoulder.
“We always lock our car doors, and we always have someone watching the blanket at the beach,” Heilmann said.
Pauline Teresco, of Toms River, said crime isn’t a big worry when she visits Cape May. But she said she abides by a few of her own rules to stay safe.
“I don’t leave anything valuable in my hotel room. I try not to carry as much cash,” she said.
Atlantic City police Sgt. Monica McMenamin said visitors should try to park in well-lighted areas and store valuables in the trunks of their cars.
“Be aware of a business’ operating hours. Use a parking garage or a lot with security and lights,” she said.
On the beach, she suggests setting up closer to lifeguard stands. The Police Department gets a lot of tips about petty beach crime from lifeguards, she said.
“People can be victimized by crime anywhere. So you have to remain vigilant,” she said.
Wildwood’s Regalbuto said visitors typically know when something about a situation feels off. The best advice is to trust that instinct and act accordingly, he said.
“The hair stands up on the back of your neck for a reason. We all have that sixth sense when something’s wrong,” he said.