Sunday, January 02, 2005

Discontinuance of Beach Checkpoints

While passing through the Pensacola Beach eastbound residential area checkpoint this past Friday, I commented to the attending deputy that we sure would be sorry to see them go after this weekend, when the checkpoints are to be discontinued. He fervently replied, "And we'll be sorry to go, so please contact the commissioners! Call them! Leave messages!"

I figured it was the least I could do. Even though I'm sure you join me in realizing it's highly unlikely to do much good, I sent the following e-mail to the Escambia County Commissioners today, and copied the Sheriff's Department. Please send one yourself, or call them, if you agree with me. I only hope we never have to say we told them so.

Here's the letter:

"Tonight's discontinuance of Sheriff's checkpoints at the entrances to the residential areas on Pensacola Beach is a very big mistake.

This is a huge, widely devastated area that cannot possibly be properly patrolled and controlled by deputies - not when the vast majority of the structures are unoccupied and thus remain an open invitation to vandalism and looting, and not while many of those structures have been officially deemed unsafe to enter without risk. The amount of time and personnel required to carefully patrol each block 24-7 when the area is opened to all comers will simply be prohibitive.

While it may be true that most residents' belongings have been removed, there are still plenty of owners and renters who for logistical or monetary reasons can't afford to do so, or who've been unable to find rental storage facilities in the area. (I don't have to tell you that storage capacity here is severely overtaxed.)

Some of the other factors inviting trouble:

There are thousands of out-of-town workers in the area, who may not feel a connection to and/or sympathy with Ivan victims, and the temptation to "salvage" personal property, fittings and fixtures from unguarded, especially damaged, houses will be high. Not everyone from everywhere is as upstanding as most of our local area citizens.

Further, since the beach has always been a playground for the young, there'll be the added danger of those kids with nothing better to do, and maybe with a few beers under their belts, deciding it's OK to wreak more havoc on structures already trashed by Ivan. It may prove virtually impossible to protect these young people from themselves. The dangers are many, and the potential liabilities huge.

Certainly not least is the difficulty of protecting homes under re-construction, many of which contain equipment and new materials stored on site or already installed. While this is a potential problem in any new housing project, here we have what amounts to an entire darkened, unguarded and somewhat remote town full of temptation for those who would as soon steal plywood as gold. Fledgling re-construction efforts on Pensacola Beach, as difficult as they presently are for all kinds of reasons, should be applauded, encouraged and protected, not left open to the frightening prospect of new harm.

Leaving a checkpoint deputy at each end of the beach 24-7 and reducing the number of patrolling deputies the beach normally enjoys would seem to be a much wiser move than closing the checkpoints and increasing patrols. In fact, isn't this a no-brainer, or am I missing something?

(I think what I'm missing is the political aspect: pressure from your county constituents spouting that baloney about our severely wounded island under protection of its owner now somehow resembling a private gated community. Look, that's just the usual old sordid sour grapes, and there's no call for it. Please don't be stupid enough to fall for such childishness.)

The very last thing Pensacola Beach needs now, while we're trying to rebuild the island and its tourism, is a lot of negative publicity about incidents of thievery, vandalism, and possibly even personal injury. Will you wait until that's already happened, or will you work with the Sheriff to find a way to maintain the security the non-core area still needs and deserves?"

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