Rowdy element making weekend trouble beachside


Late at night along Ocean Drive, particularly on weekends, things aren’t quite as tranquil as they used to be in our little village by the sea.

Merchants recently have been complaining about petty crime and vandalism in the Central Beach area, and some pedestrians out for a late-night stroll have reported being hassled and harassed by boisterous groups of young people spilling out of bars at closing time.

Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey says he has already increased police presence in the area and will do so even more in the near future, with the additional four officers he was authorized to hire under the new city budget.

Two officers now have been assigned to foot patrol in Central Beach Friday and Saturday nights starting at 10 p.m. Since January of last year, Currey said, 60 citations for trespassing have been issued in the area.

“What’s going on is that unfortunately, we’re having some growing pains. We’re seeing the consequences of the considerable growth we’re experiencing in the area,” Currey said. “We may only have about 17,000 people in the city, but the county has grown to about 170,000, and the people coming into the city causing problems are mostly not city residents.”

The latest reports are apparently not related to the melee in a Humiston Park parking lot a month ago in which a 17-year-old juvenile shot and wounded a 19-year-old man in the stomach. The victim was flown to Lawnwood Hospital in Fort Pierce, but the juvenile shooter was not charged because he was defending a friend under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Vero Beach police subsequently charged three different individuals ranging in age from 19 to 21 with battery because of the fight, and one of them, the only one in custody, was also charged with marijuana possession. The two others remain at large.

That altercation is regarded as an isolated incident between two groups of high schoolers or recent high school graduates, one from Okeechobee, who happened to be in the area, but the recurring rowdiness and vandalism around Ocean Drive that has irked the local business community has been blamed on a slightly older crowd – people old enough to legally drink in the bars along Ocean Drive.

The owner of one business along Ocean Drive said the barriers to his private parking lot in the back of the building, which he needs for his employees to park during the busy winter season, have been broken and vandalized two dozen times, costing him up to $500 in repairs each time. The vandalism always occurred between midnight and 1 a.m. on weekend or on holidays.

Meanwhile, White’s Tackle shop on Cardinal Drive just one block off Ocean Drive, was broken into a little over a month ago. The burglars gained entry by breaking down the front door and made off in a truck with some fishing rods and reels of undetermined value.

The business owners declined to be quoted by name because, even though police reports were filed in each instance, all crimes are unsolved at this time and they feared retaliation as long as the culprits remain at large.

Chief Currey said there is a suspect in the tackle shop break-in, but the individual is not cooperating with police. Currey disputed allegations that his police force isn’t doing enough to solve the cases because they aren’t “high-priority items.” He said the police take all crime reports from the beach area seriously.

What’s remarkable about both cases is that both business owners didn’t really want to wait for the police to catch the culprits – they took matters into their own hands to warn perpetrators and deter repeat incidents.

The business that had its parking lot entry gates broken several times installed security cameras, but even though the recordings showed human figures – both young men and women – committing the acts of vandalism, the images taken at night were not clear enough to make positive identifications.

However, the business owner also went one step further. He personally went around to the bars in the area and asked the bar managers and bartenders to spread the word that he had security cameras installed and would be able to identify anyone breaking the equipment in the future. Since he started doing that, he has not had any new incidents in the last six months.

The tackle shop manager’s security cameras were not working at the time, but he went around neighboring businesses along Cardinal Drive and found usable footage of a truck pulling up to the shop in the middle of the night and making off with the goods. He then posted that footage on Facebook and asked the public for help in locating the truck, which resulted in usable leads.

Other problems reported in the area include teenagers blocking sidewalks for pedestrians, vehicles racing down Ocean Drive at high speed and crack pipes left at Humiston Park.

Chief Currey says he has been working on improving safety in the area with local businesses for the past two years forming so-called “community partnership units” (CPUs). He says it is a successful initiative that has improved safety in the area.

Currey says the police have also improved signage announcing that Humiston Park along Ocean Drive is officially closed as of 10 p.m. to prevent groups of young adults from “just hanging out in the park.” There is also a “no parking” rule at the park between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., which his special patrols are enforcing.

Currey says he is totally committed to making the Central Beach area safe and he says he personally reviews the security sheets from the two officers assigned to night foot patrol duty in the area on weekends.

“I believe we’re doing well staying on top of things,” Currey said.

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