Concern surrounds patrol plan for Pinellas County beaches July 4th weekend

Pinellas County

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – We’re just days away from the Fourth of July holiday weekend. While some Florida beaches plan to close, Pinellas County Commissioners made a unanimous decision Tuesday to keep beaches open.

While all the commissioners decided to keep beaches open, some are concerned about the amount of law enforcement, or lack thereof, that may be on the sand.

A couple of commissioners voiced their concerns about how this may impact coronavirus.

“I’m concerned as we all are about what happens 2-3 weeks down the road if we let the beaches go without any enhanced enforcement,” said Commissioner Ken Welch.

“Spreading them out on the beach, as we know it’s the indoor areas that are the problem. It’s not mom and dad playing with the kids in the sand that’s the issue, this isn’t spring break, it’s a different environment. You know, we’ll keep an on it,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Gualtieri said he has no plans of putting 300 deputies at every beach entrance to man the beaches with a real-time dashboard like they did Memorial Day weekend.

“Where does personal responsibility come in? When are we going to stop holding everyone’s hand?” said Sheriff Gualtieri.

Some residents spoke up at the commissioner’s meeting worried about coronavirus, too.

“Today the sheriff painted this perfect little picture of a family playing on the beach when that’s not what we’re facing,” said resident Barbra Walke. “I would say when it comes to societal issues, law enforcement absolutely does have a role to play.”

8 On Your Side tried reaching out to the sheriff for more details about what his exact plan is for patrolling. We received an e-mail back saying he was unavailable for comment, but that there is normally an increased police presence on holiday weekends, which is what will be there this weekend.

Meanwhile, the Clearwater police chief said they plan to quadruple their police presence this weekend.

“We’re worried about alcohol violations, fireworks, grills, keeping order in general. The only difference this year is us having the ability to encourage them to socially distance and take personal responsibility,” said Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter.

But even if people do get too close together, all police can do is suggest they spread out.

“Yeah the current rules don’t require masks outdoors, socially distancing is suggested not required,” said Chief Slaughter.

Some beachgoers tell 8 On Your Side they think police and deputies need to plan on doing more patrolling.

“To make sure people are social distancing, keeping their space. We would all like to enjoy the beach,” said Bradley Aponte of Clearwater.

Lauren Richards said it shouldn’t all fall of the shoulders of law enforcement.

“In all reality, they can’t hold everyone’s hands and people are going to what they want and there are things that are probably more important,” said Richards.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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