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Treasure Island leaders look to crack down on Sunday drum circle

TREASURE ISLAND — An uptick in fighting and underage drinking by beachgoers attending the Sunday night drum circle is prompting city commissioners to consider a crackdown.

The informal drum circle, which has been gathering on the beach for more than a decade, is not the source of the problems, said Treasure Island police Chief Tim Casey. It is the teenagers who flocked to the beach this summer after school ended, joining the crowd of several hundred who regularly attend. The teenagers brought their quarrels with them, as well as alcohol and marijuana, Casey said.

And although the drummers typically leave by 10 p.m., he said, the younger beachgoers typically party on for hours.

Arrests have been made each Sunday for the past three weeks. On June 17, four people were arrested on disorderly conduct charges, one for underage drinking, and another for marijuana possession. After one dispute, a 16-year-old boy was hospitalized with a broken jaw, Casey said.

"It's a little crazy out there," said Casey, who is planning to increase the number of police officers monitoring the drum circle from six to as many as 10.

The City Commission may take it a step further. City Attorney Maura Kiefer said commissioners have asked her to revisit the city's ordinances, including how long the drummers are allowed to play, to determine whether new rules are needed to keep the crowds in order.

The commission has no plans to ban the drummers, she said. "It's more an issue of tightening our regulations on a lot of different levels."

Kiefer said she would present her findings to the commission at the July 17 meeting.

City Commissioner Irving "Butch" Ellsworth said that, personally, he would like to put an end to the drum circle.

"Speaking as a resident of the city of Treasure Island, I don't want it, period," he said. "To me, it's creating nothing but a problem."

Existing rules permit the drum circle to continue until 10 p.m. during daylight saving time, and to 9 p.m. the rest of the year. But the beach is not closed to the public until 1 a.m.

It would not be the first time that Treasure Island has had to curb the activities of the drummers, dancers and spectators who numbered roughly 400 last weekend, according to the police department's estimates.

In January, the commission passed an ordinance giving police the authority to arrest beachgoers who dig deep holes in the sand and fail to refill them. To the diggers, the trenches were a way to hide from police; to the city commissioners, they were a potential safety hazard.

And in 2006, in response to a similar increase in fighting and drinking, Casey increased the number of police officers on the beach on Sunday nights. After a few weeks, he said, the problems abated.

The weekly gathering began in 2001 when two friends, a belly dancer and a modern dance student, began inviting people to drum on the beach. The players are catholic in their taste of instruments, some choosing djembe drums, others banging on empty cans. Since its founding, the event has become a tradition admired by some neighbors — and a steady source of annoyance to others.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or