2004-06-18 / Front Page

Strict Enforcement of Beach Rules Hits Rockaway

Tickets From QSTF Anger West End Locals As East End Fishermen Steam
By Howard Schwach

Strict Enforcement of Beach Rules Hits Rockaway

Tickets From QSTF Anger West End Locals As East End Fishermen Steam

By Howard Schwach

With the summer beach season underway once again, complaints have been coming in to The Wave from both the eastern and western ends of the peninsula.

Beaches throughout the peninsula are closed on a daily basis by lifeguards with no prior notice because of a manpower shortage.

A Beach 137 Street man who has been using that beach for 33 years was given four tickets by a Parks Enforcement Police (PEP) sergeant for sitting on a closed beach.

Fishermen at Beach 15 Street in Far Rockaway, long-designated as a fishing beach, were whistled out of the surf, not allowed to cast from the shallow water.

Four young men were ticketed on Beach 102 Street for sitting on the boardwalk after curfew.

Several families were removed from the water at Beach 105 Street for allowing their kids to boogey-board. They were told to move their families either to Beach 116 Street or Beach 91 Street if their kids want to use the boogey boards.

"This is the worst I have ever seen it in my 33 years in Rockaway," says Geofrey Wohl. "I understand that the city needs funds, but this is not the way to do it."

Wohl told The Wave that his problems really began on June 9. The long-time Rockaway resident was standing in the surf at beach 137 Street when a park policeman told him that the beach was closed and that he had to get out of the water.

"I complied," said Whol, "but I made it clear what I thought of the city’s rules."

Wohl says that on June 16 he was sitting on a beach chair on the same closed beach when Sergeant Joseph of the PEP came up and asked him for his identification. Wohl says that he complied immediately.

The PEP Sergeant then wrote Wohl four tickets: one for disorderly behavior; a second for being in a closed park facility; a third for endangering the safety of others by being in a closed park facility and a fourth for failure to comply with an officer’s directions.

"He said that I had no right to be on his beach when it was closed," Wohl said. "I always believed that the beach belongs to the people."

Wohl said that it was embarrassing because the PEP sergeant called for NYPD backup and more than a dozen officers responded.

"I think that my neighbors thought that I was being arrested for a crime with all those cops around," he said.

In the lifeguard incident, several officers from the police department’s Queens South Task Force (QSTF), headquartered in Jamaica, swept through the west end of the peninsula last Sunday night and early Monday morning, ticketing more than a dozen local residents for not obeying curfew signs by being on the boardwalk and the beach late in the evening.

Shawn Quinn, 18, a lifeguard in Rockaway, and three of his friends had been playing basketball in the courts across from Dayton Towers on Beach 102 Street and Shore Front Parkway until 1:30 a.m. early Monday morning.

"The four of us had a nice, quiet game of B-Ball and then went onto the boardwalk to relax," Quinn told The Wave on Wednesday. "We were just sitting there, minding our own business when a police truck came up to us. The cops got out and said, ‘we have to give you tickets for being on the boardwalk."

Quinn says that he and his three friends, Thomas Ford, Thomas Gurry and Kevin Johnson, were each given a $20 ticket returnable in Queens court.

According to official records, the QSTF gave 13 tickets that night on the Rockaway beachfront.

Quinn, who says he will not fight the ticket because it would cost him more to take the day off to go to court than to pay the $20, is angry.

If we were drinking or loud, or causing a problem, I could understand the ticket," he said. "This kind of police action shows no respect for our right to use our beach and boardwalk."

"Where else are we supposed to go," he asked. "There is no place else for kids to hang out during the hot summer months."

Long-time Rockaway resident and fishing aficionado Jay Gilsen is angry as well.

He and his friends have been fishing from the beach and the surf on Beach 13 Street for more than 30 years.

"It is a great place to fish," said Gilsen. "It has always been designated as a fishing beach."

Until this year, Gilsen says.

"This year, the Park Enforcement Police have been whistling fishermen out of the surf, not allowing them to cast off the beach," he says. "We can fish from the beach, but not from the surf. When you fish for fluke, you have to go a ways into the water to control your cast and your line."

"We don’t want to cause problems," he adds. "We don’t want a confrontation, but one is coming."

"Some rules are good," he agrees, "but the rules that don’t allow fishermen on the beach to go out into the water up to their ankles, their knees, means that we are being pushed around for the sake of some stupid bureaucratic rules."

Nancy Herman and her children were on the Beach at Beach 105 Street on Wednesday morning when lifeguards whistled her children out of the water because they were using boogey boards.

"The lifeguards on each beach have the discretion of deciding whether the boards are dangerous to those in the water and to keep them out," says a spokesperson for City Councilman Joe Addabbo, who sits on the Parks Committee.

According to Addabbo’s office, the lifeguard officers also have the discretion of deciding what beaches will remain open on a daily basis, sparking many complaints that beaches in front of the Dayton Towers complex and in front of the apartment buildings from Beach 117 to Beach 122 are not patrolled and closed to bathers and sun worshipers alike.

Herman and a number of others who called The Wave with similar complaints were told that they could go to either Beach 91 Street or Beach 116 Street.

"We have little kids and we come down with our wagon carrying our belongings," Herman says. "Why do we have to go a mile from our home to be able to use the beach the way we want to?"

Beach and boardwalk rules and the wave of tickets that flows from those rules have been an ongoing controversy over the past several years.

According to Addabbo, local political leaders and police officials had worked out an understanding this year that would allow more discretion on the part of police officers policing the beach and boardwalk and that tickets would not be given out unless some problem existed.

Apparently, neither the Parks Enforcement Police nor the QSTF was part of that understanding.

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