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Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 26, 2020 2 months ago

Officers focus on education over enforcement during beach closures

As Sarasota County beaches remain closed, local law enforcement is upping its beach patrol.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

Residents who take their daily walks on the beach have had to find a new route after the closure of county public beaches.

Last week, Sarasota County and Manatee County leaders ordered the closure of all public beaches in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The decision came amid concerns about the local effect other Florida beach closures might have. 

All walking trails to Lido Beach are cordoned off, but that didn't stop several from walking on the beach.

“Our residents and our visitors have done what we asked, but we’re worried about the gridlock and other such things that might come into play with those other beaches closing,” Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said.

In the days following the announcement, barricades were placed at the entrances to public beach parking lots, and yellow caution tape lined any dune crossovers. Still, residents and tourists are finding their way onto the beach, which has caused local law enforcement to increase beach patrol.

“We’re doing more of education and encouragement than anything else,” said Genevieve Judge, a spokesperson for Sarasota Police. “Most locals realize the beaches are closed, but you might have folks coming from out of state who have no idea.”

Judge said the officers will approach people on Lido Beach, inform them why they are closed and ask them to leave.

READ MORE: Follow all The Observer's COVID-19 coverage

Similar actions are being taken by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department on Siesta Key. Kaitlyn Perez, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s department, said the deputies are using an education-over-enforcement approach.

If necessary, Perez said the department could take further action depending on what violation a person makes. “The good news is, everyone has been very pleasant and agreeable so far when they are told the beach is closed,” Perez said.

Some residents are not happy that their favorite walking spot has been closed.

Despite the closures, people were fishing off the pier and lounging in the sand at Siesta Key Beach Access 2.

Liz Harper, who uses the main access near her home on Midnight Pass Road to begin her daily walks, said she thinks people should still be able to walk near the water line.

“To take that away from people is just ridiculous. It’s not like they’re out there in groups,” Harper said. “They tell you to go out and get exercise — don’t go in groups, obviously — but go out and do things, and that’s all we’re trying to do.”

Lewis said the decision was made to keep people healthy and to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Sarasota County lifeguards are continuing to work from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. daily to deter visitors who walk under the caution tape or from nearby private vacation rentals.

Lewis said he is unsure how long the closures will last.

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