It’s almost here. The unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day weekend, is fast approaching. People will flock to area beaches, lakes, and parks to enjoy the warm weather, outdoor activities, and time with family, friends, and even new faces. The police also want everyone to get outside and have a good time. But they must weigh this against public safety.
Just last year, a pop-up car show in the beach town of Wildwood, NJ resulted in car accidents and two fatalities. Although expected by local law enforcement, the turnout for the unsanctioned event was much larger than expected and the situation quickly got out of hand, requiring assistance from state police and surrounding communities.
If you want to avoid having your day at the beach, lake, or park end badly, take my advice:
Don’t Get Into a Fight
Fighting in public is not legal, no matter where it occurs. So, if you end up in a brawl on a public beach or in a public park, the police will step in. While you might be charged with disorderly conduct, other more serious offenses may be added if someone is injured. Those involved might be facing assault charges.
Assault in the 1st degree is the most severe. We consider this when there is intent to cause physical harm to another with a deadly weapon or instrument. Even if this is not the case, police can also arrest you for assault in the 2nd or 3rd degree. A 2nd degree assault charge is a felony and carries a sentence of up to 7 years in prison. Although a misdemeanor, a 3rd degree assault charge can still land you in jail for up to one year.
Come Sober, Stay Sober
Alcoholic beverages are not allowed on public beaches in New York, nor is public intoxication. If you show up drunk and your behavior is problematic, you will be arrested. Public intoxication isn’t measured by how much alcohol someone has actually consumed. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only had 1 or 2 drinks. If you can’t handle it and cause an issue, your day at the beach or park will be over.
If you try to sneak some alcohol in a cooler, we may search it if we notice you drinking from a container that obviously contains alcohol, like a beer can or vodka bottle. This could lead to your arrest. However, just having an open container will result in fines but no jail time.
If you are not clearly drunk, causing an issue, or drinking from an open container, police cannot just search your cooler without your permission. The fourth amendment to the Constitution protects people from “unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.” This right extends to your belongings on a public beach or in a public park. If we ask and you say “yes,” then we are free to search because you’ve given your consent.
Don’t Light Up
Adults in New York City are now able to possess marijuana but there’s a limit to the amount they can carry: up to three ounces of marijuana (and up to 24 grams if concentrated). If caught with more than what is allowed by law, and this is proven in court, you will likely need an attorney to help minimize the consequences.
Still, although now legal in small amounts in New York City, marijuana use is illegal on public beaches. And, it’s not only marijuana that’s prohibited. All smoking (cigarettes included) is banned.
If you choose to smoke marijuana, don’t do it on city beaches or in city parks. If you do, you may be facing penalties and/or jail time. And, if you injure someone while high, the consequences will be even more severe. It’s best to exercise good judgment and obey the no smoking laws.
Wearing too little in public can also land you in trouble. Most beaches in New York do not allow nudity, but there are a handful of exceptions. If not on a nude beach, failure to cover up properly could result in a charge of lewdness or indecent exposure. Either charge could leave you facing fines, court fees, and possible jail time. If the incident is witnessed by a minor – a definite possibility on a beach or in a park — fines and jail time will be increased.
My Final Thoughts
Most officers don’t mind being assigned to a public beach or park. We also enjoy being outside on a nice day and appreciate that the vast majority of people are just looking to have a great time swimming, surfing, or just relaxing in the sun. But being free to roam the beaches and parks in New York City doesn’t mean that you can break the law or infringe on other people’s rights.
If you get into a disagreement, don’t let it escalate. Leave the alcohol, marijuana, and cigarettes at home. Lastly, dress and behave appropriately. If you want to shed your bathing suit, do it on one of the area’s designated nude beaches.