NSB issues youth curfew due to large crowds

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NEW SMYRNA BEACH – Large spring break crowds are nothing new to the coastal towns of Volusia County. Although the economic revival of businesses is seen as a positive effect, large crowd sizes can cause difficulties in smaller communities.

And with students in Volusia and surrounding counties, including Seminole, Orange and Brevard, celebrating spring break at the same time this year, larger-than-usual crowds have become a concern.

In New Smyrna Beach, a popular spring break destination for visitors from out of state and surrounding counties, this year’s crowds have brought unique challenges, according to the city.

Since March 11, an unusually high number of spring break visitors, mostly young people, have vacationed at New Smyrna Beach.

According to the New Smyrna Beach Police Department, hundreds of children gathered, particularly overnight, disrupting residents and businesses in the popular beach town.

These disturbances include “children crawling on top of buildings, throwing corporate furniture onto the road and accosting corporate employees,” police said.

The situation escalated as the week progressed – to the point that the city commission called a special emergency meeting on Wednesday evening to address the issue.

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After hearing from approximately 10 business owners and residents, as well as police, City Commissioners approved a “60-day curfew for unaccompanied youth under the age of 18…east of Riverside Drive and for groups of 30 or more elsewhere within the city limits from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Friday, Saturday and holidays.

Penalties include a written warning for the first offense and a fine or community service of $50 to $100, applied at the minimum hourly wage rate, for each subsequent offense, depending on the city.

“If families want to visit our town and be guests in our community, we welcome them and hope they have a great time,” New Smyrna Beach Mayor Russ Owen said in a statement released ahead of the day. meeting. “However, unaccompanied minors wandering our streets and neighborhoods, causing problems for our residents and businesses, will not be tolerated.”

He added: “We are a family destination and will take all necessary measures to remain so. If you dropped off your child in New Smyrna, it’s time to pick them up.”

“100 officers wouldn’t be able to handle these children”

New Smyrna Beach Police Chief Mike Coffin said at Wednesday night’s meeting that the key problem is that the department doesn’t have “enough police officers to be in every corner” to deal with the crowd this year.

“We were ready for spring break as we knew it would be,” Coffin said. “We hadn’t anticipated what we’ve been through these past two nights.”

Police Lt. Christopher Kirk, accompanying the chief at the meeting, gave an overview of what the department had been dealing with over the past few days.

“These are giant groups of children gathering in and around the street,” Kirk said. “They usually move when they’re told to cross, it’s from corner to corner, to corner, starting as soon as the sun goes down.”

Kirk also said he personally dealt with traffic violations along Flagler Avenue and in areas near the beach.

“Sometimes there are 400 or 500 kids there,” Coffin said. “A hundred officers wouldn’t be able to handle these kids if they decided to do something nefarious.”

So far, police have arrested one adult and issued a juvenile citation. Coffin explained at the meeting the difficulties faced by the police when dealing with young people who break the law.

Spring Break on New Smyrna Beach, Thursday, March 17, 2022. Police have so far arrested one adult and issued a juvenile citation.

“The Juvenile Justice Department limits how long we can detain these children: six hours,” Coffin said, adding that the individual’s detention requires “a multitude of reports” that the department “must file to substantiate that”.

This becomes especially problematic when children come from other states.

“It becomes very difficult to reach a parent or guardian and do that, in the middle of the night, drive here and pick up these young people,” Coffin said.

Coffin said he coordinated with law enforcement in surrounding towns to recruit staff for St. Patrick’s Day Thursday and the weekend, which the department expects to be just as busy, otherwise. busier.

“We have an operational plan that we have in place, both with Beach Safety and our other partners, for mutual aid starting tomorrow,” Coffin added on Wednesday.

Kirk said officers from those other surrounding agencies will assist as needed due to the fluid nature of the situation. He also said funding comes from each agency and mutual aid is a “give and take that is reciprocated across the county whenever needed.”

“This one is a bit out of control”

Alice Muskey, owner of the Treats on the Beach dessert shop on Flagler Avenue, said school boards in Volusia and surrounding counties deciding to have spring break the same week may have contributed to the unusually larger crowds this time.

“I’ve been here almost 20 years and I’ve seen a lot of spring break – this one is a bit out of hand,” Muskey said. “That’s a lot of kids to throw in any field. We get (children) from all the counties who come here. I think it’s something to watch.

Businesses on Flagler Avenue and other beachfront streets were hardest hit by large gatherings, especially overnight.

PJ Warner, owner of a gas station and convenience store at 323 Flagler Ave., said the police department parked two cars outside his property Tuesday night after an incident with a group of about 20 to 30 children the night before.

“They’re on my property, the store is closed, their radio is blowing,” Warner said. “The first guy blew weed smoke in my face, the second spat in my face, then the third threw whiskey in my face.”

Additionally, Warner said he saw individuals in the group urinating and defecating in the property’s side driveway and parking lot.

Spring Break along Flagler Avenue in New Smyrna Beach on Thursday, March 17, 2022. PJ Warner, owner of a gas station and convenience store at 323 Flagler Ave., said the police department parked two cars outside his property on Tuesday evening after an incident with a group of around 20 to 30 children the night before.

Warner said he thinks the city could follow what nearby cities like Daytona Beach, where the police department operates a substation during special events, are doing, so it can be better prepared in the future. .

Jack Protzman, owner of the Beachie Beans Coffee Shop on Flagler Avenue, said he’s seen the situation get worse over the years and the curfew was a “good idea”.

In addition to offering Wi-Fi, the cafe also has a backyard where people usually bring in food and drinks from other establishments and enjoy the outdoors with family and friends.

“It works well when people are respectful,” Protzman said.

But “the level of disrespect, the age of people who openly broke the law” in recent years has increased on his property, he said.

“As an example, (last year) there was a young man with a pack of 12 beers like it was a badge of honor sitting there and drinking it – he was 14,” he said. -he declares.

Protzman added that he thinks young people are more aware of their rights today than when he was younger, especially when dealing with law enforcement.

“These kids under 18 are a lot more knowledgeable than when I was younger,” Protzman said. “They know what their constitutional rights are, they know who can touch them, what (the police) can tell them.”

“We have to get the situation under control”

Ed Ruby, manager of the Atlantic Plaza Condominium Hotel on Atlantic Avenue, said Orlando-area guests have been spending spring break at NSB for years. But as the children got older, he saw a change in their behaviors and those of their parents.

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen a change in the behavior of young people, and we’ve seen a change in the behavior of parents of young people,” Ruby said.

He said “it’s a good thing” for parents to bring their teenage children to enjoy the beach and New Smyrna, “except it’s more of a spring break for the parents than for the kids.”

“Parents sit and have a great time at the pool, but the kids are gone,” Ruby said. “They walk around everywhere.”

After approving the curfew, Owen said the measure has not and will not make this problem “like magic” go away and that officers still have days of “very real work” ahead of them.

“We’re asking them to do it,” Owen said. “It may not be perfect, we may have problems, but we have to get the situation under control.”

Owen also said calling the emergency meeting on Wednesday will serve not only to address the more immediate situation this week, but also to lay the groundwork for how the city can better prepare for and manage issues that may occur during future spring break.

Owen added that despite spring break having passed, “unaccompanied minors” coming to New Smyrna in such large numbers is a “relatively new phenomenon.”

He stressed that the message the city is sending with the curfew and other restrictive measures is not that “New Smyrna is closed or that we don’t want anyone here.”

“The message is that we want families here, couples, young adults, whoever it is, responsible citizens who come here, part of our community, part of our economy in a productive way,” Owen said.

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