How We Compiled the Data
Criminal charges in this report were compiled from booking logs supplied by the Daytona Beach Police Department.
The logs detail charges against individuals booked at the police beachside substation at Harvey and Wild Olive avenues by police departments in Daytona Beach, South Daytona, Daytona Beach Shores, Holly Hill, Ponce Inlet and Ormond Beach, plus the Volusia County Sheriff's Office and Beach Patrol, and Florida Highway Patrol.
East Volusia police agencies use the substation exclusively to book arrests during the events, said Daytona Beach Police Chief Dennis Jones. The data does not include underage drinking arrests by the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.
Citation data was compiled from the Volusia County Clerk of Courts citation database on the Internet. It includes violations of state statutes filed in circuit and county court by local and state police agencies. The data does not include violations of city ordinances.
Busted at BCR
Police make far more arrests at Black College Reunion than any other special event.
Some call it responsible law enforcement. Others call it racism.
Second-place winner, Investigative Reporting,
Mid-Florida Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists 2005 awards
Published in The Daytona Beach News-Journal on June 13, 2004
Wesley Frater said he got the message during Black College Reunion this year. "I've never seen that many police officers in my life," the 40-year-old sports promoter from Miami said after a friend got a traffic ticket during his first trip to BCR. "I said to my friends, 'This is a way of making sure (BCR visitors) never come back.' "
Those officers wrote far more tickets for minor infractions and made far more arrests - mostly for liquor-, drug- and driver's-license-related offenses - during BCR than during peak weekends of any other special event this year, according to East Volusia arrest figures and countywide citation data analyzed by The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
The gap is especially wide compared with the last three days of Speed Weeks, when police issued a fifth as many citations and made far fewer arrests than during BCR.
The number of BCR arrests also contrasts sharply with a similarly themed Memorial Day weekend event in Miami Beach this year, where fewer police wrote fewer tickets and made fewer arrests, despite presiding over a crowd nearly four times as large as BCR, participants said.
Frater and other critics blame racism for the high number of BCR arrests and infractions. Police are more eager to look for illegal activity, they say, at black-majority events than at much larger gatherings of whites like Speed Weeks or Bike Week.
"The threat of African-Americans gathering for a good time always raises hairs on the necks of people who are unsure or unfamiliar," says Wells Wright, a Bethune-Cookman College graduate and promoter of black-oriented events, including events during BCR. "They fear they will lose control so they decide to smother rather than decide to understand."
But police, noting they also hunt aggressively for lawbreakers during Spring Break, where most visitors are white, attribute differences in law enforcement strategies to the nature of the events themselves.
"Whenever you have a group of individuals who choose to ignore the law, we're going to enforce the law," Daytona Beach Police Chief Dennis Jones said in an interview last week. "I'm not going to be the first chief who loses control of any event."
Jones says it's unfair to draw conclusions by comparing numbers of arrests and citations during various events. Bike Week and Speed Weeks visitors tend to be older and better behaved; while BCR and Spring Break draw visitors who are younger, more rebellious and less respectful of authority and the community.
Plus, the nature of Speed Weeks and Bike Week requires police to devote most of their resources to traffic management, he says, while BCR and Spring Break take place within a concentrated area of the beachside where police must devote more attention to keeping "cruisers" moving and quelling disruptive behavior.
VISITORS: SEPARATE, UNEQUAL
Some BCR visitors complain bitterly that police employ a zero-tolerance strategy only during the black-oriented event. And the newspaper's analysis shows that unlike during Speed Weeks or Bike Week, hundreds of BCR visitors were pulled over and cited for such minor violations as driving too slow or driving with windows tinted too dark. Far more seat belt violations were issued at BCR than at other events.
BCR visitors were arrested for littering, carrying a snake, failing to sign a citation and obstructing the sidewalk. Overall, arrests and citations during BCR increased slightly over last year despite a sharp decline in the number of visitors.
That's because the more manageable crowd size allowed police to spend more time looking for violators, said Scott Franz, a 12-year Daytona Beach police patrolman and president of the Daytona Beach Police Association, a social and fraternal organization.
Supporters of the heavy police presence say strict enforcement is necessary to control lawlessness among non-college students who drive to BCR from nearby Central Florida cities. These visitors spend little money, drink to excess, openly use narcotics and engage in behavior that's lewd, loud and lawless, merchants and residents complain.
Comments from BCR participants, however, suggest that the high level of control might come with a possible cost to the area: lingering bad feelings among potential customers with lifetimes of vacation decisions in front of them.
"I definitely will never spend another dollar in Daytona Beach for the rest of my life," Frater said.
On Web sites that cater to young blacks, visitors posted messages blaming the decline of BCR attendance in recent years on the heavy police presence.
"The thing that's killing BCR is the riot-like presence on the strip," said a participant posting under the name "Finisher" on the BlackBeachWeek.com site.
On a message board maintained by BET television, promoters of an annual rap concert series here, "DawgFilms" wrote he was "really irritated" by "the fact that the cops were looking for all kinds of reasons to arrest or detain us" - such as "jaywalking, tints on the cars being too dark, & other crazy (expletive deleted)."
Wright, who lives on the beachside, has heard frequent complaints "that they are agitating (visitors): 'Pull you over and we'll find something.' " He called the perceptions "very accurate."
"I've been a victim of it myself, over the last two years. One time I was stopped in the parking lot of my own complex and treated as if I wasn't supposed to be there," he said.
At BCR this year, police used barricades to block access to east-west streets, parked their cruisers in medians and on the sides of the road, and walked through parking lots and hotel corridors. They responded to emergencies and directed traffic, taking care to keep the crowd moving. They watched traffic for moving violations, equipment violations, loud music, drinking and drugs.
The police deployment, which has been heavy since Black College Reunion became a major special event in the early 1990s, totaled nearly 900 officers: 350 state troopers, 245 city police officers, 170 sheriff's deputies, and 130 off-duty deputies hired by merchants as private security guards.
By comparison, a little more than 100 officers worked on the beachside during the heaviest weekend of Spring Break at the end of March, when between 50,000 to 60,000 hit town for a car stereo exposition.
Those visitors, however, don't stay out drinking, cruising and smoking pot all night long, Jones said. During BCR, traffic remained backed up across bridges spanning the Intracoastal Waterway well past 4 a.m.
Even so, Jones said fewer officers might be necessary at BCR next year.
REPUTATION MARS BCR
Not all visitors were offended by the massive show of force.
"For the most part, we had a pretty positive reaction from most of the people who are here," Officer Franz said.
Some female visitors say they appreciate the police presence because it dissuades male visitors from aggressively groping their breasts and buttocks - an activity that has contributed to the event's poor reputation.
Gina Bruner of Ocoee said the heavy police presence "didn't really bother me" despite being ticketed for dark tinted windows. "I think it was good that they had so many officers there," she said in a telephone interview.
And on some of the same Web sites where posters decried the heavy police presence, others complained that aggressive groping marred the event.
"The guys were so disrespectful," said "Sugared407" on the BlackBeachWeek site. "I can put up wit a lot of booty touching but they were ridiculous. This is officially my last time going."
According to "Finisher," "I hate to say this, but the brothas in Florida act like they've never seen a piece of booty before. It's the females not going to BCR that's driving attendance down there."
Daytona Beach Mayor Yvonne Scarlett-Golden says she's aware that some visitors believe that BCR is "over-policed." On the other hand, she says, police organizers believe they need to staff the event at high levels so they can respond appropriately to incidents that might occur.
She declined to say whether she believes the police presence is inappropriate.
Jones says every BCR sparks complaints. Some claim police do too much. Others say they don't do enough, he says.
Former City Commissioner Mike Shallow, Scarlett-Golden's opponent in the 2003 election and current president of the Main Street Area Redevelopment Board, contends that planners are relying on memories of BCR events from five years ago to guide their law enforcement strategies.
At the event's peak in 1998, crowds topped 100,000, Shallow said, and they included a lot of "people who came into town for no other reason than to raise Cain."
A gunman opened fire during the event that year, wounding four police officers before he was killed, and the perception of lawlessness gained a stronger foothold.
In recent years, however, participation has declined. While police spokesman Sgt. Al Tolley estimated this year's crowd at 60,000, Shallow, who roamed the party zone, guessed it was closer to 25,000 or 30,000.
"But that (out-of-control) image is still in the minds of a lot of people," he said.
City Commissioner Rick Shiver, whose district includes part of the beachside, says the city deployed "more police than they needed" this year but only because there were fewer visitors than expected.
"If the crowd would have been (100,000) as projected, it wouldn't have been too much," he said.
Jones said the size of this year's crowd was unexpected. Next year, he said, he'll ask the Florida Highway Patrol to send just half of the 350 troopers who worked the event this year.
LAX WITH BIKERS, RACE FANS?
Shallow and City Commissioner Darlene Yordon, whose zone includes part of the special events party zone, have long criticized BCR and Spring Break as "street parties" that create more trouble than they are worth.
But they said the tallies for arrests and citations suggest that police look the other way regarding lawbreakers during Speed Weeks and Bike Week.
Shallow says he's watched police directing traffic routinely ignore race fans carrying open cans of beer across U.S. 92 after parking their cars at the Volusia Mall.
And the number of motorcyclists who violate noise ordinances using illegal "straight pipe" mufflers far exceeds the 500 equipment or noise violations cited during Bike Week's busiest weekend, he said. Hundreds of bikers drive drunk during Bike Week, he said, far more than the 10 booked for driving under the influence at the department's beachside substation during the event's final weekend.
Shallow, Yordon and Paul Politis, a gift shop owner and past president of the Beachside Merchants Association, say that the amount of money visitors bring to Speed Weeks and Bike Weeks influences a hands-off law enforcement strategy during those events, compared to BCR and Spring Break.
But Franz said he's never heard any order, spoken or implied, directing police to overlook violations during those events. Traffic management is the priority during Bike Week because visitors and activities are spread countywide, and officers from Volusia County cities, as well as deputies working in unincorporated areas, have their hands full simply making sure that vehicles move from place to place.
During Speed Weeks, officers may overlook open container violations because they're too busy getting race fans off highways and into the racetrack, he said.
"My feeling is that you've got to prioritize what you can and cannot enforce," Franz said. "Do you want to be tied up writing a ticket on the side of U.S. 92 during the races? Is that going to solve problems or create more problems?"
Traffic management duties likely explain why police countywide wrote fewer citations during the last three days of Speed Weeks than during the second week in January, when tourism is at one of its lowest points locally, Jones said. Police who aren't directing traffic to or from race events are likely answering calls for service, he said.
STOPS PRODUCE ARRESTS
During BCR, police issued nearly 500 citations for driving too slowly because, Franz said, they need to prevent motorists from obstructing traffic when they slow to a crawl to interact with pedestrians.
More than 200 were pulled over for illegally tinted windows. That's necessary to protect officers' safety, Franz said. "I'm walking up to your car door and can't see what your hands are doing, I don't know if you have a weapon."
And the high number of seat belt violations during BCR and Spring Break, he said, could reflect acts of kindness - officers might write citations for those non-moving violations - with fines of $44 - rather than for more expensive moving violations.
Of 839 people cited during BCR for seat belt violations, 295 were also cited for other violations. Passengers were cited for not wearing seat belts 226 times, and those citations often led police to discover participants wanted for violating terms of probation, carrying suspended driver licenses, illegal drugs and other contraband.
Police at BCR aren't making large numbers of traffic stops so they can look for other violations, Franz said.
However, "If I stop somebody (for a traffic violation), running their driver license and looking for warrants is standard procedure," he said. "Once I have you stopped, if you have an open container, or your license is suspended or you have a warrant, yes, I'm going to address that."
A review of charging documents on file at the county courthouse annex in Daytona Beach indicates that many BCR arrests followed traffic stops for such violations as driving too slowly or playing music too loudly. Some drug arrests occurred after motorists granted "voluntary search requests" that some civil libertarians contend are coercive because refusal to grant them can be used by police to justify involuntary searches.
Meanwhile, City Commissioner Yordon says she has no problem with the high level of law enforcement at BCR. She said she would like to see additional officers deployed to control motorcycle noise during Bike Week. Commissioner Shallow favors maintaining current levels of police during BCR and Spring Break, but believes it's unfair not to take equal approaches to law enforcement during all events.
Yordon and beachside merchant Politis say they don't care if the heavy police presence drives away the BCR day-trippers who travel here from nearby cities to, in Politis' words, "tear up the town."
"I don't have a problem if those guys never want to come back to Daytona," he said. "In fact, that's the message we want to send."
Copyright 2004, The Daytona Beach News-Journal