TREASURE ISLAND — Police officers were out in force on Sunset Beach last weekend, handing out tickets to beachgoers violating city laws and arresting underage drinkers.
"We will do this for as long as we think it is necessary," said City Manager Reid Silverboard on Tuesday.
He warned that continuing behavioral problems among beachgoers could "ruin a good thing" and lead to stricter regulations on the beach.
The increased police patrols came after strong complaints from area residents about alcohol-related problems created by an estimated 3,000 visitors crowding the beach on the Fourth of July weekend.
After the holiday, the number of people on the beach dropped sharply, according to police Chief Tim Casey.
Saturday, there were about 1,600 people on the beach near Caddy's, a popular beachfront bar and restaurant. Sunday, that number dropped to about 800, he said.
"It was pretty routine, by and large. It was a good crowd that seemed to behave," Casey said.
In addition to the three off-duty police officers hired by Caddy's to patrol the beach and direct traffic, Casey said he deployed an additional two officers to the beach at Caddy's, one officer to help with traffic on West Gulf Boulevard, and the other as a marine patrol officer to regulate boaters anchoring offshore.
Over the weekend, police officers issued 10 tickets to people found with glass bottles or containers on the beach, at a cost of a $113 fine per violation.
Five boats were ticketed for intruding into the restricted swim zone area, and 66 vehicles were ticketed, mostly for parking too close to intersections or for expired meters.
Two people under 21 were arrested Saturday and given notices to appear in court on charges that they were illegally drinking alcohol. Another five beachgoers were charged with underage drinking Sunday.
No one was taken into custody, but police policy is to detain those possessing alcohol who are under 18 until their parents can pick them up or take them to a juvenile holding facility.
Casey said officers "carded" nearly 200 people over the weekend.
"If you are 30 or younger, we will card you," he said.
Casey said residents and police officers often think many beachgoers are underage. "They look like they are 16, but we find out they are 25. It is deceiving," he said.
Casey acknowledged that Sunset Beach residents are frustrated by the crowds coming to the beach on weekends.
Last week, residents crowded a City Commission meeting to complain about rude and intoxicated beachgoers, people urinating on the beach and engaging in sex acts, and the piles of trash that were left on the beach.
Increased police patrols will continue, Casey said, until he and city officials are satisfied the problems have been significantly reduced.
"I would very much favor banning beer kegs on the beach," Casey said. "There is no practical reason for them to be there. None whatsoever."
Any decision about banning beer kegs or other restrictions on beachgoers will be discussed in a special City Commission workshop, which Silverboard said would most likely be held later this summer after budget deliberations are completed.