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LI police warning: Bring your bikini and sunscreen but don't forget your mask

Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy and Southampton Town Police

Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy and Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki talked about the precautions police will take to enforce social distancing and crowds on Memorial Day weekend. Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware, J. Conrad Williams Jr.; James Carbone

Long Islanders can expect to see a huge police presence at beaches, parks and other recreation areas this Memorial Day weekend, including drones and helicopters in the skies and cops driving through the sand on all-terrain vehicles in an effort to protect public safety amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Bring your bikinis and sunscreen but don’t forget your face masks, police say, as cops will be enforcing the governor’s executive orders directing people to stay six feet apart and to wear face covering in public.

Beaches in Nassau and Suffolk counties will permit just half their capacity of visitors in order to comply with social distancing rules. In the Hamptons, while police aren’t expecting an onslaught of New York City residents, as many of the summer destination’s out-of-town visitors have already arrived before the unofficial beginning of summer, they're preparing for large crowds nonetheless.

In addition to more cops at recreation spots, officers will also be conducting drunken-driving patrols both on the roads and waterways, a hallmark of police activity on the holiday weekend.

“We’re going to do everything in consideration with the governor’s recent executive orders,” said Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki. “We’re hoping to do this all in a nice, easy, gentle way, reminding people to be courteous.”

Skrynecki said the department has a dozen unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, at its disposal to monitor crowd sizes at the three beaches that will open this weekend for town residents only — Ponquogue Beach, Sagg Main Beach and Long Beach in Southampton.

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“Rather than having an officer walk 100 yards down a beach, the length of a football field, which takes some time, we can put an unmanned aircraft system in the air and we can capture what that looks like instantly,” Skrynecki said. “And we can do that from the parking lot.”

Jones Beach and other state park beaches could be a draw for New York City residents this weekend after officials announced city beaches would remain closed, resulting in municipal-run beaches in Nassau announcing they would only admit county residents, officials said.

Some activities to be banned

But sports like beach volleyball are not permitted and concession stands will be mostly closed. Beachgoers, state park police advise, should only go to the beach with members of their immediate household  and while at the beach maintain a six-foot distance from others, even while swimming. Blankets and chairs should be at least 10 feet from others. 

Long Beach’s celebrated 2.2-mile boardwalk will be open to everyone, but only locals can access the beach.

Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said while his officers generally only respond to calls for service at beaches during the summer, his officers will be out in force this weekend at parks like Eisenhower Park and beaches in the county to help enforce social distancing with a heavy dose of warnings.

“It’s going to be busy, with people trying to get to the beach, but at the same point, there’s no restaurants open, no bars open, so that closes down a lot of activity,” Ryder said. “We’ll be out there enforcing the governor’s executive orders, but we’ll be doing it like we’ve been doing it all along, respectfully." 

Ryder said the department has issued 35 appearance tickets for violations of social distancing or unauthorized reopening of a business since about mid-March.

Ryder recalled his own teenage daughter working at a summer job at a beach and being screamed at by a frustrated patron when she had to tell them the beach was at capacity as a harbinger of things to come this weekend — especially with beaches at half their normal capacity.

“I think our bigger issue is going to be when we have to tell people ‘hey, guys, the beaches are closed now, we hit our capacity,’” Ryder said. “In the normal summer, people get upset when it’s a beautiful day and they get to the beach and it’s closed.”

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said her department has issued just three summonses for noncompliance of the governor’s executive orders.

“We’re going to obviously put into place our traditional protocols — high-visibility patrols, increased traffic enforcement, DWI patrols,” Hart said. “Of course because of COVID-19, we’re going to have some things that are different.”

In addition to the Together Enforcing Compliance teams of recent police academy graduates her department has put on the streets to specifically enforce social distancing, patrol officers will be stationed at the Fire Island ferry and community support officers on bicycles will be patrolling potential gathering spots like commercial districts in Port Jefferson and Patchogue.

Additionally, Hart said, the department plans to have a State Police trooper stationed in the communications section for the holiday weekend “to have a higher level of coordination” on traffic and other issues.

“Anytime when the weather’s nice and people are getting anxious to get out, we need to be mindful of that and have that high visibility,” Hart said.

Policing will extend to more than just beaches

Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said police will be out at the village’s marina and the Nautical Mile, a strip of beaches and restaurants that gets some two million visitors a year. 

He said they will add extra police patrols over the weekend. 

"We will be notifying people to please maintain safe distances between yourself and other visitors on the Mile and also we will be handing out masks to anyone who wants it. Residents need a mask, we will provide them." He said they anticipate large crowds despite the pause order. 

"Many people come out to Jones Beach, and on their way to Jones Beach they come to the Nautical Mile,” Kennedy said. “It's a fact, they have been doing it for many years. I assume we are going to have the same amount of people cruising the Nautical Mile as many years in the past because I understand the beaches will be open as long as there is safe distancing provided on the beaches. I expect we are still going to have large crowds down here but will have the police details to control it and make sure the people are safe." 

Beaches across the country have reopened ahead of New York despite the still raging coronavirus. In Colorado, what they refer to as beaches in the landlocked state were shuttered after being swarmed by crowds. In Florida, students on spring break during the pandemic's earlier days crowded beaches before they were closed.

While this weekend's forecast on Long Island is the wild card, the cooler-than-summertime temperatures expected could put a chill on beachgoers. Some showers are forecast for Saturday and temperatures are only forecast to peak in the low-70s.

But some might still want to get out of the house and celebrate the holiday after being cooped up inside for the last two months. 

Planning for big crowds

"A lot of it’s going to be weather-dependent," said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. "It’s still May, the ocean's cold, it’s not the best beach weather. But we’ve planned for large crowds, expecting the worst." 

Schneiderman said the town is only opening three beaches, when the area's population swells with tourists: It simply couldn't provide staffing to fully open all its beaches because of the extra bodies needed to perform coronavirus-related services.

"The planning has been extensive to a granular level in terms of all the protocols to be in place to protect public health," he said. 

But Schneiderman said beaches and recreation areas are integral to Southampton and other East End communities, especially the local economy which is boosted by throngs of visitors in the summer months. 

"The mask lines will be the new tan lines, right?" Schneiderman joked. "It is strange. I think most people, if you ask them why they chose this area to live, would have the beaches in the top three reasons. This is a coastal community and we obviously love the ocean and we have some of the best beaches anywhere...We love our beaches and I don’t want to take them away, I want to figure out how to make them safely available."

Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said his cops have already had to contend with large crowds gathering over the last three weekends. He said the department will beef up foot and bike patrols over the weekend. 

More than crowded beaches, Flatley said he’s worried about people descending on Greenport’s popular bar and restaurant for takeout, but instead of going home, sticking around the commercial strip for some plain ‘ole socializing.

"We are getting our share of complaints but we have not had to issue summonses yet,” he said. “People are pretty good about social distancing once you give them a warning."

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