2004-05-28 / Columnists

From the

Editor
By Howard Schwach

Jones Beach is famous for its boardwalk restaurant and its miles of white beaches.

Coney Island is famous for its thrilling rides and its hot dogs.

Long Beach is famous for its beaches, its boardwalk, its great surfing waves and its amazing comeback from decay.

Riis Park is famous for its parking lot, its art-deco bathhouse and the ability of beachgoers to barbecue and surf.

What is Rockaway famous for? Its ticket blitz.

In its "Guide to The Best Beaches" in the area, The New York Post says, "Surf’s not the only thing that up in the Rockaways. More summonses have been issued to those who surf with no lifeguards on duty."

Now, isn’t that an inducement for people to come and use our beaches, the economic engine that drives our summer business and the one tourist attraction that we enjoy?

It is also the draw for people from all over the region to buy the new homes that are being built on virtually every empty lot on the peninsula.

Why then are we famous not for the best beach on the east coast, nor for some of the best surfing waves in the area, nor for the second-longest boardwalk on the east coast (next to Atlantic City), but for the tickets that city police and parks enforcement police dole out in large amounts?

There are a few answers to that question, some of which are provable and some of which are pure conjecture on my part.

First of all, it is clear that the homeowners associations who purport to represent those who live on the west end want beach enforcement to be draconian. They have asked the police to ensure that the early curfew on both beach and boardwalk be strictly enforced.

That has been done to keep outsiders off the beach and to ensure that the beach is not used by teenagers and young adults, who often tend to become noisy after curfew hours. Homeowners nearby the beach consider the use of "their beaches" a quality of life issue as well as a way of keeping home prices elevated. Last year, when the teckets became an issue, a number of residents told me that they demanded the enforcement on the part of the NYPD because they believe that the beaches belong to those who own homes nearby and that they have the absolute right to the personal use of the beach.

If this "personal beach" theory was not so, then police enforcement in the east end of the peninsula would be like that in the west end. It is not. When asked about that, police officials told me last summer that "fewer people live nearby the beach."

They also said the same when I asked why beachgoers on Coney Island beaches were allowed to surf, to barbecue and to use the beach after hours.

Secondly, police in the east end of the peninsula as well as those in Coney Island, have real crime numbers to deal with and can go to CompStat with arrests and crime trends that are going down. That satisfies the brass and gets the precinct commanding officers accolades. In the 100 Precinct, there are fewer crimes and it is harder to get the numbers needed to "prove" that policing is going on. To make it up, the past precinct commander used tickets and criminal court summonses as that proof that the precinct was active.

Those C-Summonses were the bane of both residents and visitors last summer and the summer before.

In the most glaring event of the summer, police from the precinct raided a July 4 local firefighter’s beach party that turned into a dispute and some arrests.

While there is still some question of whether the party was a fundraiser for the victims of September 11 or not, it really doesn’t matter because the story made all of the daily papers and tarnished Rockaway’s reputation no matter what the party actually was held for.

Shortly after the July 4 event, a number of events were held at other city parks were alcohol consumption was allowed.

When asked why Rockaway’s party was busted while others in Central Park and Prospect Park were not, the mayor said that Rockaway’s beaches are much more dangerous that those parks.

I really would like Bloomberg to point to one alcohol-related death in Rockaway over the past five years or so. He won’t find one.

I am sure, however, that he would be able to find a motor vehicle accident nearby Central Park that was alcohol-related, perhaps from somebody who got drunk in the park.

After the summer, City Councilman Joe Addabbo, who was then chair of the Parks Committee, said that enforcement of beach rules would be "much more reasonable" this year.

So far, that has not proven to be true.

The new surfing rules proposed for this summer have yet to be vetted by the city even though they were passed by the state health department.

Last week, four firefighters got tickets on the beach for having an open fire and for drinking beer. They also got one apiece for "failure to obey" the posted signs.

That does not sound like "more reasonable" to me.

People should be allowed to drink on the beach as they can at other city parks. They should not be harassed by cops checking their coolers for "contraband" beer. They should be allowed to barbecue on the beach. They should be allowed to walk away and leave their blankets unattended if they choose to.

If, however, they really do something that steps over the line, such as getting "drunk and disorderly" or causing problems for other beachgoers, then and only then should the police get involved.

People should be allowed to enjoy themselves without getting arrested.

The Boardwalk hours should be extended to 1 a.m. from 10 p.m.

The beach hours, excluding swimming, should be extended to midnight from 9 p.m.

Those who live nearby the beach have to understand that they bought in a beach community because the beach is so compelling and that its use should not be restricted only to those who can afford to buy there.

The beach is public property and the public should be allowed to enjoy it.

On Sunday, a group of teenagers was drinking heavilly on the beach at Beach 129 Street.

They reportedly were underage and abusive to others on the beach, mostly people who live nearby.

The police were called and they took two young men off the beach for an ID check. After a few minutes of sitting on the curb, waiting for the check to be completed, the two teens chose to run and were tracked down only a few blocks away. The police, in that case, were right in taking action.

Had they been old enough to drink, however and had they not been abusive to locals, what harm would they be doing.

"I don’t see anything wrong with a couple of beers on the beach," Addabbo told me last week. I wish the city would see it that way.


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