Sergeant Smith reports on Memorial Day Weekend
Sergeant Arik Smith of the Sheriff’s office reported to the Siesta Sand that there was very heavy beach traffic on the Island on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.
There was, however, significantly less traffic on Sunday and Monday, likely due to the cloudy and rainy weather.
Sergeant Smith indicated that they were well prepared for the crowds and proactively implemented a procedure whereby the main beach parking lot closed after it was full. Thereafter, they only permitted entry into the lot when a parking spot became available. He indicated that this procedure was successful in limiting disputes over parking spaces and resulted in no calls for service to the beach parking area.
This procedure also freed up resources to be deployed on the beach and in other parts of the Island.
With respect to social distancing measures, Sergeant Smith indicated that he believed business owners on the Island were being responsible in implementing the measures mandated by the State and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
Overall Sergeant Smith estimated the amount of calls for service to be in line with a normal holiday weekend.
Sheriff’s office discusses beach reopening
Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office personnel probably could have used the phrase “So far, so good” to describe the public’s reactions to the initial easing of restrictions on the beaches as of April 27.
About 1 p.m. that day, county Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester interviewed Cindy K. Turner, manager of the county’s Beaches and Water Access Division, on the Siesta Key shoreline. Asked about staff’s observations as of that time, Turner told Winchester, “It’s kind of slow and steady. People are adhering to social distancing.”
As for the continued closure of the parking lots, Turner said, “We wanted to ease into this.” County staff had concerns about people coming to Sarasota County’s shoreline from other areas of the state where beaches remain off limits, she pointed out.
In an email he sent to the commissioners just before 4 p.m. on April 27, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis wrote, “Our lifeguards, beach attendants and the Sheriff’s Office have been doing outstanding work. Our Communications team did a great job getting the message out over the weekend.
“So far it shows that once again our residents will do the right thing,” Lewis added.
When the SNL checked in on April 29 with Kaitlyn R. Perez, community affairs director for the Sheriff’s Office, she provided the following information:
“On Monday, we did issue a few parking citations, but were lucky enough to contact most drivers who were parked illegally and have them move their vehicle without issuing a citation. We had no major issues on any beach north to south. Most everyone we came into contact with was following the rules for social distancing. By all accounts, Sarasota County residents did very well with the modified opening.”
Turner pointed out in the interview with Winchester that the county has 35 miles of shoreline.
Perez did note that she saw one incorrect tweet from a local TV station whose helicopter had flown over Siesta Public Beach. That station reported that Sheriff’s Office personnel were “kicking people off the beach” who were set up with chairs and coolers, Perez wrote in her April 29 email. She added that she corrected that report “very quickly.”
“Our guys and gals out on Siesta and all public beaches are informing folks that they must be participating in an ‘essential activity,’” Perez continued. “Not once have we told anyone to ‘leave’ the beach and I don’t believe we will anytime soon.”
The SNL also checked in with Perez last week, after County Administrator Lewis announced the plans to allow essential activities once again on county-operated beaches. She made it clear that the Sheriff’s Office’s top priority would be education.
At first, county staff just allowed the essential activities of walking, running, biking, swimming, surfing and fishing on the beach, as denoted in the Executive Order Gov. Ron DeSantis issued on April 1. No congregating, sunbathing or lounging on the shoreline was permitted.
In an April 29 email to the commissioners, Lewis noted, “Our activation of the open space with restrictions at the beaches has gone well. While some are frustrated by the parking, it has provided the right, safe, and measured platform to reactive the space in phases. There are pockets where our lifeguards have had a hard time getting people to follow the restrictions, but overall the anecdotal response has been good. Also, the Sheriff’s office has been a great partner,” he continued, noting, “they have had some pockets of parking enforcement challenges but they have dealt with them.”
Then, as of midnight on May 3, Lewis authorized the reopening of the beach parking lots, and the county Communications staff announced that chairs, coolers and canopies again would be allowed on the county-operated shorelines. However, staff emphasized the need for social distancing.