CLEARWATER — Having the title of the best beach town in Florida comes with pros and cons.
The pros: People flock to Clearwater Beach — one day during the Fourth of July weekend, about 25,000 cars drove through the area — and businesses and hotels are thriving, officials said.
Among the cons, says Clearwater police Chief Anthony Holloway: "You're going to get the good elements and you're going to get some of the bad elements."
To keep up with the influx of beach visitors, the city has approved new officer positions at the Police Department. Come Oct. 1, the department will hire two officers, train them for 21 weeks and then assign them to Clearwater Beach, possibly just in time for next year's spring break.
"We want to have a very visible police presence," said City Manager Bill Horne. "It discourages crime."
The newer hotels and businesses, like the Hooters on Mandalay Avenue, have attracted more visitors, Horne said.
Currently, 24 officers working five shifts are assigned to the Clearwater Beach district. Patrol officers often park their cars to walk and chat with the crowds, a strategy Holloway calls "park, walk and talk."
Detectives at the beach analyze crime patterns. Plainclothes officers conduct surveillance.
Three to seven officers are out at the beach at any one time, Holloway said. During large-scale events, some officers may be pulled from the mainland and sent to Clearwater Beach. During spring break, 20 officers were assigned to the beach at a time, the chief said.
"If you want to come to Clearwater Beach and enjoy yourself, that's fine," Holloway said. "We're not here to see a bunch of people drunk on the sidewalk."
Officers haven't detected any major spikes in crime, though they continue to target beach blanket thieves. Since May, more than 40 of those thefts have been reported. Holloway said thieves typically snatch iPhones. Sometimes they take only one credit card from a victim's wallet so they don't arouse suspicions.
Police have made more than 10 arrests related to the thefts.
In July, some Clearwater Beach residents complained to city officials that they had spotted beach visitors who had gang-related tattoos.
"We made citizen contact, we looked at the tattoos," Holloway said.
Only a few of the visitors turned out to be related to gangs, but they had not committed any crimes while on the beach.
"Since then, I haven't seen any reports of officers saying they are hanging out or claiming a corner," Holloway said.
Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters or mail letters to the Tampa Bay Times, 1300 Cleveland St., Suite 100A, Clearwater, FL 33755.