While there’s not much more the county could have done to avoid the mayhem that rolled onto Bolivar Peninsula with thousands of Jeep owners this weekend, it could and should consider avoiding a repeat by working to ban alcohol on the beach during such gatherings.
It wouldn’t be easy, and it wouldn’t be quick, but efforts to prohibit alcohol on peninsula beaches during certain events could have payoffs for years to come.
The county did pretty much everything it could do this weekend when many thousands of Jeep owners descended on Bolivar Peninsula. It planned. And it ramped up law enforcement, responding the best it could to bad, and sometimes dangerous, behavior.
Few good things ever come from large crowds, alcohol and stupidity. And that proved true this weekend as law enforcement and emergency officials from Thursday to Sunday arrested 125 people on the peninsula, many for alcohol-related infractions, Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.
Cities have limited power to enact and enforce ordinances pertaining to alcohol. Counties, on the other hand, have little say in such matters. County officials would have to persuade state lawmakers to approve legislation banning alcohol on Bolivar beaches during Jeep Weekend and other such gatherings. It wouldn’t be easy, but it’s not impossible.
Some groups are pushing an online petition calling for a ban of Jeep Weekend itself. That would be near impossible, given state and federal laws against prior restraint of public gatherings, which is as it should be, the right to assemble being among the most important.
Likewise, Texas is proud of its public beaches and the laws granting mostly unrestricted public access.
In short, the county can’t forbid such gatherings.
Jeep Weekend, also known as Go Topless Weekend, has ballooned so much in recent years that the sheriff’s office treats it like the Fourth of July, Trochesset said.
The county had extra people on the beach at all times and covered the ferry landing on the peninsula and the island.
The Texas Department of Public Safety had extra patrols in the area, Trochesset said.
Still, things got very much out of hand, trapping peninsula residents in their homes, forcing some businesses to close and keeping law enforcement officials and emergency responders constantly working.
No one is suggesting the county attempt to ban alcohol on the beach year-round, just under special circumstances, such as Jeep Weekend.
Five years ago, Gulf Shores in Alabama banned alcohol possession on its beaches during spring break.
Last year, the ban lasted 58 days to coincide with spring break and Easter, according to reports.
The Gulf Shores City Council voted unanimously to support the ban, which was a recommendation from the city’s police department.
The ban was first implemented during an emergency council meeting on March 18, 2016, near the end of a chaotic week of spring break that featured massive gatherings on the city’s beaches.
Party crowds don’t tend to gather at beaches where there are alcohol bans.
“We continue to do it each year because it works for us,” Gulf Shores Police Lt. Bill Cowan was quoted as saying in a Lagniappe Weekly article. “It helps to create an environment that is welcoming both to spring breakers and families with younger children.”
It’s true, Galveston County would have to enforce the alcohol ban and pay for the law enforcement needed to keep the peace. But the county already is putting extra law enforcement on the peninsula during Jeep Weekend.
Not everyone was behaving badly during Jeep Weekend. But it’s a good bet that people who were misbehaving go to festivals for the sole purpose of drinking and raising hell. There are hundreds in every crowd. But they might not come if the county makes it an unattractive proposition.
The county should ask state lawmakers to formulate a solution and ban alcohol on Bolivar Peninsula beaches during Jeep Weekend.
• Laura Elder