Spring Break is No Beach Stroll for Law Enforcement Officers

Spring Break is No Beach Stroll for Law Enforcement Officers

By Stephen Owsinski

The annual Spring Break season is upon us throughout Florida. It is certainly no picnic for cops working the dunes and oceanfront strips laden with revelers who temporarily departed their college dorms for fun in the sun, partying with no Off switch, often culminating in major melees and destruction.

Weeks before the massive influx of young people flooded the Sunshine State and brought their high energy with them, primarily coastal law enforcement authorities and state officials publicly warned Spring Breakers that law-and-order principles are always paramount and, conversely, any shenanigans will be dealt with swiftly.

Seems the fair warnings fell on deaf ears.

Seems the police were true to their word.

On March 14, 2024, deputies with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office (VCSO) and police officers with the New Smyrna Beach Police Department (NSBPD) spontaneously confronted a young man wielding a firearm in a vast expanse of oceanfront, the sandiness populated by mostly young people trying to enjoy the surf away from college turf.

But there is always that one…and he brandished a gun.

Viewing the footage provided by VCSO, my point-of-view as a retired LEO immediately realized their exposure to bullets (significant lack of cover and concealment), should the gun-waving teen decide to pull the trigger.

A few LEOs clustered behind a Lifeguard Station (with a number on it…which became crucial to directing reinforcements to the exact location amid miles of beach) after they evacuated the lifeguard from her post and shooed her away. “Get down! Go! Go to your car!” was the command from one of the sheriff’s office supervisors coordinating efforts to quell this volatile upheaval.

Seems the lifeguard was prepping to descend from Tower 409 and hightail it to the confines of her car, anyway. It all unfolded so swiftly; her instincts kicked in.

(Screenshot courtesy of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.)

At this point, you are likely curious what it looked like. However, I caution you to view the footage with sound off…as some rather salty language became part of the saga.

There you have it. Successfully, law enforcement officers assembled well under the dire circumstances, squashed the situation with an arrest, and retrieved the gunman’s firearm he tossed in the ocean…along with a satchel of baggies containing marijuana packaged for sale.

The “gunman” is a boy, aged 16, whose college outlook is now bleak due to his hatching this hostile encounter. Unlike other states whose softy criminal justice practitioners would have likely coddled this kid and issued him vouchers for free ice cream, the district attorney in Florida promptly filed the case and declared prosecuting the juvenile as an adult.

Mutual Aid 

During Spring Break week, coastal law enforcement agencies partner with police departments and sheriff’s offices whose jurisdictional territories are further inland, each entity sparing a few LEOs to bolster the primary cops.

For example, officers and detectives with the Port Orange Police Department provided assistance to the New Smyrna Beach PD whose officers conducted a traffic stop and subsequently discovered a firearm and marijuana.

“Officer Rogers and Detective Fischetti, assisting with mutual aid request for New Smyrna Beach PD during Spring Break, stopped 18-year-old, Ronny Bengochea-Chinea of Lakeland, FL, and his 16-year-old passenger from Casselberry, FL and ultimately located a firearm with an extended magazine and Marijuana in the vehicle,” explained a Port Orange PD blotter.

(Photo courtesy of the Port Orange Police Department.)

“This person’s spring break is over,” said a spokesperson with the New Smyrna Beach PD.

Mainly, the unified effort is to ensure safety for all people: Spring Break enthusiasts and residents alike, attending to those who do not abide. When revelers morph into rabble-rousers, cops promptly focus on those who are keen on disorder and mayhem.

This illustrates the idiom “Come for vacation, leave on probation.”

Although some pickup trucks or four-wheelers are marked with “Beach Patrol” on the sides and rear, these factions are trained in water rescue techniques and are not certified law enforcement officers. The Beach Patrol personnel are equipped with two-way radios to summon sworn cops when they see the need arise (altercations, criminal activities).

Beyond Spring Break week, public safety assets —police, fire/rescue, EMS— conduct training scenarios to solidify efforts and succeed in missions of all kinds, mostly water-borne operations.

In terms of boaters and jet skiers, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers join forces with coastal police organizations’ marine unit personnel, patrolling the waterways and responding to maydays while also conducting boat safety checks and anyone BUI (boating under the influence).

(Photo courtesy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.)

In task force fashion, the combined efforts of various law enforcement agency personnel monitoring gobs of youngsters and vices that may cause unruly behaviors and criminality is crucial during Spring Break. That is where co-reliance comes into play…

The teen wielding a firearm who was arrested at Tower 409 placed many lives in danger, including his own and those of law enforcement officers. The openness of the scene, disallowing adequate cover for cops to secure against potential gunfire, attests to the willingness of LEOs to confront evil and place themselves in harm’s way while also safeguarding innocents trying to enjoy nature.

In the footage above, there are several accounts of a sheriff’s supervisor skillfully directing colleagues to bring forward their patrol cruisers to use as cover and concealment. Also, you can hear some yells for ballistic shields that are designed to protect cops in vulnerable situations such as this bizarre beach standoff transpiring in a wide open seascape.

This is one example of why local governments harbor concerns every year.

A CBS News article title tells it all: “Judge rules that Miami Beach’s spring break midnight curfew stays after 3 nightclubs file complaint against city,” denoting how fed up local and state governments are with Spring Break activities draining public safety resources, residential/commercial properties sustaining damages, and a potpourri of unruliness and unpleasantries, all fueled by overconsumption of alcohol and some narcotics—peers mirroring each other.

A report a few weeks before Spring Break signaled that the city of Miami is considering a resolution that would prohibit the annual event in their sovereign territory.

That coin has two opposing sides…

On the one hand, the collegiate crowd pours gobs of funds into the local economy, thus enhancing tax revenues that compensate for world-class first responders.

On the other hand, the same revelers invest their money in local attributes and then place themselves in the crosshairs of crimefighters and, in so doing…cause a significant drain on public safety resources, even to the extent that resident and merchant taxpayers may wind up with the short stick by experiencing longer response times when they dial 9-1-1.

As pro-police Florida Governor Ron DeSantis trumpeted: “If you’re coming here to enjoy Florida, and to have a good time, fine. If you’re coming for these other reasons, if you’re committing crime, causing havoc, you’re going to pay the price.”

His statement was made public around the time some Miami-area officials teased imposing increased restrictions and regulations to hopefully mitigate the annual mid-March brouhaha, the proposal of which legacy media flagged as “breaking up with spring break.”

A New York Post article in 2022 spelled out the firepower confiscated during Spring Break, citing how “Florida cops seize enough guns for a ‘small army’ from rowdy spring breakers,” and that was only in Panama City Beach, its police force, along with Bay County Sheriff’s deputies, busily making 161 arrests over one weekend during Spring Break. On that note, detention deputies are also super busy (burdened) with the influx of college kids abdicating law-and-order principles and winding up behind bars.

Mind you, there are 67 counties in Florida, many of which are coastal, thus entailing plenty of public safety outfits having to tend to largely childish and anarchistic behaviors. We provided a few recounts of severe criminal behavior, malice, firepower, and a brand of street takeover most of us detest, illustrating a mere microcosm among many others just like it.

It is an understatement that law enforcement officers during Spring Break have zero time for a mind-clearing beach stroll to decompress.

(Photo courtesy of the Treasure Island Police Department.)

Instead, their diligent duty is rife with many young people requiring extra guidance and direction…akin to a college syllabus laden with expectations and objectives toward attaining great grades.