Fernandina Beach Police Department
James T. Hurley, Chief
June 5, 2018 9:22 a.m.
As an island community the Atlantic Ocean and beaches form the entire eastern boundary of the City of Fernandina Beach. Local residents and visitors alike frequent the beaches for recreation, relaxation and numerous specific interests involving our unique local environment. To assure the safety of the those utilizing the beaches, to protect the natural resources of the beaches, and to maximize the enjoyment of the beaches for local residents and visitors, the City of Fernandina Beach has adopted various ordinances relating specifically to beach use.
While all sworn police officers are tasked with monitoring the beaches and enforcing these ordinances, it is not always practical to assign a police officer to focus on these duties alone. For this reason we have recently organized a Beach Ranger program to monitor the beaches and enforce our local ordinances, but also to act as a city ambassador with the goal of improving all aspects of beach use.
In anticipation of increased beach activity, to include the recent spike in complaints of dogs running off leash, which have resulted in several reported dog attacks of both people and restrained pets, the police department began educating the beach-going public in January 2018 through public contacts based on observations of common ordinance violations. Part-time police officers working only sporadically have issued more than seventy-five warnings and citations during the past five months that included ordinance violations for beach driving and parking, alcohol, and leash laws, and they have reported a significant reduction in observable violations as a result of this effort.
Since May 8th we have been assigning mostly part-time and some on-duty officers to a daily schedule as part of our new Beach Ranger program. In the future we hope to increase our Beach Ranger presence on our beaches by including full and part-time Police Service Aides (PSA), as well as Police Auxiliary Corps (PAC) volunteers. Each of our PSA and PAC Beach Rangers will be tasked with enforcing civil City Ordinance violations and may issue warnings or citations that allow for an appeals process to the City Magistrate. Unlike sworn Police Officers the PSA’s and PAC members will not have any powers of physical arrest beyond that afforded a private citizen.
These new Beach Rangers will be required to attend training in First Aid and CPR, Safe Beach Driving, Off-Road Vehicle Operations, Conflict De-escalation, Police Radio Operations, Traffic Control, Authority Limitations, and Familiarization with City Ordinances. They will then be given sixty hours of additional on-the-job training by a sworn police officer or fully trained Beach Ranger in advance of working the beach assignment alone.
Beach Rangers will be working almost exclusively on the beach, and will be outfitted in an appropriately “soft” uniform, to include a light blue “fishing style” shirt with Beach Ranger designators and either shorts or long pants. They are authorized to wear a variety of hats to include ball caps, boonie hats, or pith helmets. All Beach Rangers will report to our patrol supervisors.
Beach Rangers will patrol the beaches and public access parking lots on foot or in an approved vehicle. They will enforce City Ordinances specific to the beach with a core focus on compliance and they may seek assistance from members of Ocean Rescue or members of the Fernandina Beach Police Department as necessary. Beach Rangers will focus primarily on violations such as Littering (90-41), Camping (90-43), Horses on the Beach (90-44), Dogs on the Beach (90-45), Parking on or near Beaches (90-47), Beach Traffic Regulations (90-48), Abandoned Property on the Beaches (90-52), and Public Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages (10-5).
We do not expect this new program to solve all of our issues immediately. For example, the recent doubling of beach parking at the Sadler Road beach access from 300 feet to 600 feet will no doubt cause some problems. We have already witnessed numerous vehicles needing to be towed from soft sand, especially near the entrance to the beach. We are currently working with the Streets Department to create a workable design for those parking on the beach that will promote a safe environment for pedestrians moving around vehicles. Overcrowding of the beach parking area has always been a concern, and the only solution may be to hire an attendant for peak hours so that vehicles don’t continually enter the beach once the parking area is full.
HB 631 (Customary Use of the Beach) provides the basis for potential conflict as well, although both the City and the County are hoping to address this issue before it becomes an enforcement problem. Suffice to say, the current Police Department budget does not account for this program initiative, or any of the needed staff, so we will either make it work on a limited basis with our current budget and staff, ask for emergency funding for the remainder of this budget year or wait until next year to fully implement the new Beach Ranger program. The recent addition of two School Resource Officers to staff our elementary schools provides a positive, albeit unintended consequence, insomuch as future staffing for the Beach Ranger program may come from the SRO’s, when they are not providing security at the schools during the summer months.