‘An Editorial’

Hampton Union, Friday, July 14, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Hampton police officers made 70 arrests at the beach on the Fourth of July alone. Officers broke up several fights including one right on Ocean Boulevard as the fireworks began.

“Hampton Beach is a family resort. We want families to feel safe coming here,” said Hampton Beach Precinct Commissioner Gary Kubik.

Beach officials, business owners and Hampton residents may prefer the beach be family-oriented, but it has enough “honky-tonk” party beach reputation to last several more years. John Ozberak, owner of the Tides Resort, said some of his guests were afraid to leave their rooms after seeing gangs of kids walking down the street.

Every week, the police log stands in contrast to the notion of a family-oriented beach. On the weekend of July 1-2, there were 16 arrests for open container of alcohol, 11 for illegal alcohol or drug possession, two for simple assault and three for DWI. Police certainly did not catch all the scofflaws.

Changing the beach’s reputation will take work. It will take an expanded police presence cracking down on illegal activities until the beach acquires the reputation as being an unwelcome place for illicit behavior.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the shores of Hampton every summer week, so crime is not rampant. However, crime is higher than preferred. While many want the beach to be a family resort, including state officials, it’s just not there yet.

An adequate police force is necessary to establish the reputation of a family resort. However, the Hampton Police Department was forced to cut back its summer officers because of recent default budgets. Before the default budgets, the department filled 220 part-time shifts a week during the summer. It now covers 157 shifts per week.

Police Chief Jamie Sullivan said his department had every available officer working July 4.

The primary obstacle to expanding the police presence is the need to make sure additional costs don’t fall too heavily on the town’s taxpayers, especially residential taxpayers who don’t live at the beach. An expanded force at the beach also cannot diminish protection for the rest of the town.

The Hampton Beach Village District Commission wants more police at the beach especially on weekends and events like the Fourth of July fireworks. An early suggestion that the National Guard could help at special events is a bad idea. The guard is overburdened, and, most importantly, a military presence is not what one conjures up when thinking of a family trip to the beach.

A suggestion to use precinct money to hire police details should be studied to identify ways of supplementing this money, which should include financial assistance from the state. The state is a chief player in the promotion of tourism in New Hampshire and at Hampton Beach. The 3.5-mile beach is, essentially, a state park and the state owns everything east of Ocean Boulevard at Hampton Beach.

It will be a significant investment to deploy a larger police force at the beach. But it is money well spent, and it is part of the investment needed to make Hampton Beach a year-round, family-oriented beach resort.

The goal should be to tilt the burden of investment to those who benefit from it — namely beach property owners and the state of New Hampshire.

–The Hampton Union