CLEARWATER BEACH — In the aftermath of a Memorial Day melee that left two people shot and four arrested, the city’s police chief believes it was an isolated incident.
“I am very surprised it happened,” Anthony Holloway said Tuesday. “In the 25 years I’ve been with the Clearwater police, this is the first time this type of disturbance has ever occurred on the beach. We’ve had fights, but never a shooting.”
While the investigation is ongoing pending one final arrest — the person who was shot in the groin, police also conducted a public relations outreach effort to help quell concerns from beach residents and the business community.
Gunfire broke out at a parking lot at 215 S. Gulfview Blvd., north of the Clearwater Beach Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa, in the early evening on May 26. Police arrested four men, all from Tampa, on multiple charges. One person was shot in the hand and the other in the groin.
Holloway said the motive for the shootings still wasn’t clear.
“A group of young adults on the beach got into a disagreement,” he said. “First it was over a girl and then something else. The story keeps changing. But when the argument escalated, some went back to their cars to get their guns and then started shooting at each other.”
The police chief praised his team for controlling the situation and quickly apprehending the suspects without further incident.
“I’d give the officers an ‘A.’ They responded swiftly and mitigated potential harm for any bystanders,” Holloway said.
Two police officers responded to an initial call of a beach blanket theft, but once the shooting broke out, more than half dozen officers arrived at the scene.
The public parking garages along Coronado Drive, where the suspects reportedly ran for their guns, weren’t staffed with an extra person that day, according to police. Typically, police are assigned to patrol the public garages every Saturday and Sunday.
Going forward, police presence on holidays, including the upcoming three-day Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends, will mirror the spring break detail — more officers on the beach and in the public parking garages — to deal with the greater number of visitors.
While police wouldn’t say how many officers that would entail, Maj. Dan Slaughter explained, “We always adjust our staffing levels. Our deployment is continually evolving. We staff holidays with additional personnel, but historically had not had significant crime issues in District I.” That includes Clearwater Beach, Island Estates and Sand Key.
“With the District I tourist levels and economy growing, we will likely start staffing marquee holidays with deployment levels that mirror spring break,” he said.
In addition to the regularly assigned officers, “the Beach Anti-Crime Team and the Traffic Team are assigned to supplement the regular deployment,” Slaughter said. School resource officers also will be called upon for holiday beach details.
Following the shooting, police canvassed beach business leaders to bolster feelings of safety, security and confidence in the department.
In response to the shootings, some residents have accused the city of giving priority to the interests of tourists and tourism. Holloway responded to that criticism by saying, “Our job is to make sure whoever is in the city is safe. That is our main responsibility.”