Hunched over and at times on their hands and knees, the officers wound their way under beams and over pipes under Atlantic City’s Boardwalk.
While the city’s new Class II officers will get an official welcome today — complete with an appearance from state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa — they got their true introduction Monday as they learned the underbelly of the Boardwalk they have been tasked to patrol.
Twenty Special Law Enforcement Officer IIs, or Class IIs, have been added to the ranks to patrol the wooden walkway in an effort to increase the ranks and help move more of the full-time officers into the neighborhoods.
But the Boardwalk isn’t just a place visitors and residents stroll, shop and cross on their way to the beach. On the benches, in unoccupied areas or even under the wood, people with nowhere to stay find lodgings.
“I’ve had lots of homes,” Moon Shenberger said as he pointed toward various areas he’s lived since becoming one of the city’s homeless.
Shenberger, 62, was born in Korea then adopted, he said, explaining his last name. He owned a market on Iowa and Atlantic avenues for years, until he gambled it away. His home in Vineland also was sold to feed his addiction, he said.
Shenberger has stayed at the city’s Rescue Mission, but when he meets the limit, he has to make due again — until he gets discovered.
He was found again Monday as social service workers and Officer Bill Wenz — who works outreach with the city’s homeless — led the new officers on a Boardwalk sweep.
“This is the first time underneath for some of them if they didn’t grow up here,” Wenz said.
“We want them to have a better feel for the environment, even underground,” Tourism Commander Tom Gilbert said.
Some Class IIs learned by going well into the bowels of Boardwalk. Crawling under Garden Pier, a few made their way back one at a time to find a fairly impressive setup Shenberger had made. The “walls” were covered with plastic, and a bed — with sheet — looked like he had bought it. Instead, he said he snagged it from a trash bin near Atlantic City’s newest casino, pulling it across the wood in the winter. He worked up such a sweat, he took his shirt off in the cold air.
“Could you do something like this down here?” Jarred Levenson asked fellow Class II Officer Donnell Holland Jr. as the two looked at Shenberger’s digs. He even had a woman staying with him.
Shenberger packed up what he could take with him. He’d been through this before, so he knew the next step is that cleanup workers would get rid of his setup.
Most aren’t as well-versed in under-Boardwalk living.
“Yeah, they were both sleeping in here,” Class II Officer Ryan Sendrick said as he pointed behind an area under the Boardwalk at the Brighton Pavilion.
The couple had no items with them. They just look bewildered.
“I didn’t do this,” Joan Udd told Robert Howell as the two stood amid the officers.
She told Sendrick she was just walking somewhere. Howell said he would go to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission. But on this day, the homeless are given a choice: Accept help or get a ticket.
“It’s defiant trespassing,” Class II Officer Jared Pagano explained to another man who balked at the help offered.
Bruce Wayne Carpenter has lived under Central Pier for years, Wenz said. He balked when the officers — who spotted him from different sides — converged on him as he walked the beach.
“Calm down, calm down,” Class II Malik Tolbert told him in a friendly voice that seemed to quiet him a bit. “We’re trying to get you help.”
Carpenter will try again, after Wenz told him this is his last chance.
Farther in the distance, feet were visible sticking out from under the Boardwalk at Steel Pier.
“Hello,” an officer called as he banged on the beam above the apparently sleeping man.
He didn’t come out.
“He’s probably scared,” Levenson said. “There are like 10 police officers.”
Fellow Class II Officer Steve Sooy leaned down, trying to talk with the man.
“What’s going on?” Michael Lynch called out.
“We’re trying to help you,” Sooy replied. “Just saw your feet sticking out.”
“I have big feet,” he replied.
They’re even bigger now, severely swollen from what could be any number of conditions. He said he is on medications, but he doesn’t have any with him.
After a lot of talking — and a situation with his pants not quite staying up — he came out.
Lynch told the officers two or three others live under the pier closer to the water, but he doesn’t know where they are.
After five hours on, under and around the Boardwalk, the officers complete their day. Seventeen people headed to the Rescue Mission for food, and then — if things go as planned — to help within social service agencies.
Wenz said he was impressed by the new recruits.
“They really seem to want to do the job,” he said. “I think they’ll do well.”
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