Fifteen thousand people were at East Beach on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
Most were well behaved, but some weren’t. Many were drinking and there had been a few scuffles by 3 p.m., but nothing major.
Groups were starting to clump up in the parking lot. Security was moving proactively through the crowded parking lot disbursing the groups and making the troublemakers leave so everyone else could enjoy themselves.
There are layers of security at the Park Board-managed beach parks. The primary group on the weekends is the Park Board Security Detail. Although it is managed by a Galveston Police Department-appointed person, it is comprised of officers from various departments. Because the Galveston Police Department manages security at these large parks, there is a seamless transition to the other city enforcement assets. They can write tickets for city ordinances, coordinate with the GPD patrol division when dealing with traffic issues that cross the boundaries between parks and city streets, and have a direct line for support for issues of a more serious nature.
Mornings on the weekends and weekdays security issues are primarily handled by the Park Board Police Department. The Park Board Police Department falls under the umbrella of the Beach Patrol and is comprised of Beach Patrol full-time staff members who are also working as lifeguard supervisors on the beach. Needless to say, our capacity is pretty limited since we generally have our hands full with lifeguarding and medical responsibilities, but there are few enforcement issues in the parks during the week and we can typically handle them. GPD patrol division is always a big help when we need it. One nice thing about having our in-house police department is that we can filter lots of minor calls for GPD, and we specialize in marine issues and beach-related city ordinances.
For safety reasons the Park Board of Trustees, who ultimately sets policy, would like the parks cleared on holiday weekends, after large special events and when there are crowd problems. On Memorial Day weekend, the parks were cleared. Three hours before the parks closed, people were notified that they would need to exit the parks by the designated time. Groups on the beach were told multiple times by officers on four-wheelers, lifeguard and police using public address systems, and at the gates as they came in.
Finally, officers made a “sweep” of the beach and parking lot. Officers did not have to exit their cars. They started politely while most moved and didn’t become more firm until there were a few that did not move after repeated requests. There were no confrontations and no arrests while tens of thousands were moved out of the parks. To me, this demonstrates how well chosen the officers that work in these sensitive tourist areas are and how sound the plan is.
There was a complaint. The result was that we had a chance to re-evaluate our methodology. There are nuances about the delicate balance between open beaches requirements and public safety and we want to use the best practice. Doing the right thing means you’re constantly reassessing.