As part of the effort to head off the violence and public drunkenness that marred last year’s annual Friends of Erin St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Montauk, an army of police officers from nearly a dozen departments spread out across the East End on Sunday to horse collar any drunken revelers.
By all accounts the massive effort was effective, with just 10 arrests, none for felonies, made among an estimated 30,000 attendees. Event organizers said the police presence sent a clear message to paradegoers that Montauk would not tolerate the bad behavior and violence that had been on the upswing in recent years.
People coming to the parade aboard the Long Island Rail Road from points as far west as Patchogue have been blamed by police for much of the unruliness at parades in years past.
“I think we made our point,” said Joe Bloeker, president of the Friends of Erin, the group that organizes the annual parade. “It was better than a good start. People coming to the parade next year will definitely know that there is going to be a police presence and that the kind of behavior we saw last year will not be tolerated.”
A major part of Sunday’s effort by police was directed at keeping the alcohol intake to a minimum, particularly before the parade.
Officers from the MTA Police were stationed on both of the LIRR trains that brought people from points west on Sunday before the parade. Additionally, police officers from the Westhampton Beach, Southampton Town and Southampton Village departments were watching the train stations in their jurisdictions to ensure that people were not boarding the trains already drunk or carrying alcoholic beverages.
“The MTA police really came through for us in a big way,” Mr. Bloecker said. “Having officers on the trains and at the stations was a huge help.”
East Hampton Town Police Chief Todd Sarris said the entire East Hampton Town force was mobilized for the event, some 70 personnel in all.
According to police, the event was still a rowdy one, particularly in the hours after the parade ended. The number of arrests was down only slightly from last year, from 14, and there were several fights that did not result in arrests. But the number of violent altercations and incidents in which intoxicated revelers disrupted the enjoyment of others were reduced significantly, police said.
“We had 10 arrests in all and there were a few more made on the trains by [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] police,” Chief Sarris said on Monday. “There were 14 arrests last year but a number of those were felony assaults. We didn’t have any felony arrests this year. That’s a very good thing.”
Chief Sarris said three of the arrests were on misdemeanor assault charges, all against females and all stemming from a single fight.
At the Montauk train station, dozens of East Hampton Town, East Hampton Village and MTA officers guarded the exits, armed with devices to detect if an individual was already intoxicated or if beverages contained alcohol. Alcoholic drinks were dumped out or confiscated and intoxicated individuals held at the train station. Chief Sarris said that word of the stringent enforcement seemed to have headed off much of the early alcohol consumption en route to the parade.
“Last year, we had kids passing out in the grass by 3 p.m.,” Chief Sarris said. “That wasn’t the case this year in large part because we made a major effort to not have people arriving already intoxicated in the morning.”
During the parade, officers from the town and village departments as well as Suffolk County Sheriffs and New York State Troopers patrolled the sidewalks outside popular bars along the parade route. Chief Sarris said that dealing with the massive crowds in taverns like the Memory Motel, The Point and O’Murphy’s will be at the top of the list for improvements in next year’s coverage of the parade.
A 24-year-old bartender at the Memory Motel was arrested and charged with serving alcohol to a minor, Chief Sarris said.
After the parade, the time much of the violence and drunken behavior has occurred in the past, the focus of the police presence was shifted to the Montauk train station. As the 5:30 train sat waiting to begin loading, hundreds of wobbly paradegoers, many carrying pizza boxes, walked a mile along South Edgemere Street from downtown to the train station. There they were searched for alcoholic beverages or pulled from the crowd if they appeared drunk.
One young man got into a brief scuffle with a Town Police officer when he was prevented from getting in line for the 5:30 train because he was too drunk. A fight that broke out aboard the train shortly after boarding began resulted in two young men being handcuffed but not arrested because the victim declined to press charges.
“No, I just got punched in the face,” the bloodied young man said to officers asking if he wanted to press charges against the man who had hit him. He received medical treatment from Montauk Fire Department EMTs and was released. The boys handcuffed for the assault received lectures from police officers and were also released.
The Long Island Rail Road added a third train to its afternoon runs to the west. The additional train spread out the crowd somewhat. Chief Sarris said crowding on the train can serve to increase the likelihood of fights.
But the last train, which did not leave Montauk until 7:30 p.m. rather than the 6 p.m. final departure in years past, allowed an extra hour and a half of drinking for those who decided to stretch their stay as late as possible.
Chief Sarris said the crowd on the late train was smaller but significantly more intoxicated than those on the earlier trains. Five of the 10 arrests made by Town Police were of people arriving or waiting at the station for the last train.
A fight on the first train that headed back west at 3:30 p.m. forced the crowded train to be held at the Amagansett train station for 30 minutes while MTA officers questioned those involved. No arrests were made, Chief Sarris said, but three other people were arrested by MTA officers aboard westbound trains and another half dozen disorderly conduct summonses were issued by MTA officers.
Chief Sarris said that because most of the MTA officers had ridden the earlier trains west, and because of the level of intoxication of many of the late train’s riders, several East Hampton Town officers boarded the last train and rode it all the way to Patchogue.
The Town Police chief said that the day’s events were a major improvement over last year.
“Generally, I was very pleased,” the chief said, though he noted that the 14-hour day many officers put in was trying. “I can say that I am way too old for this stuff.”