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Saturday, January 28, 2023

WBPD increases presence for Memorial Day weekend

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While Wrightsville Beach officials don’t anticipate Memorial Day crowds to be as boisterous as those on July Fourth, the town will still increase its police presence and enforce its new parking rules, making full use of its new police officers.

The town’s police department was not fully staffed last Memorial Day, and Capt. J. Bishop said returning tourists would notice an “obvious” increase in police presence this year.

That the new officers have never worked a summer holiday weekend at Wrightsville Beach before is “a bit of a concern,” Bishop added, but said, “the job is still the same, it’s just a little bit busier. … At least we’re not shorthanded, and we’ve got a good group of guys that should be able to handle whatever comes up.”

The increased presence will be focused in certain areas of the island like the beach strand and the downtown bar district. Three officers instead of two will patrol the beach strand all day, where Bishop said the most frequent violations are open containers of alcohol.

To manage the downtown bar district, the town is adding reserve officers and deputies to the regular shift officers. Bishop said at least nine officers would work the night shift, focusing especially on the area between Stone Street and Johnnie Mercer’s Pier “once the bars get cranked up.”

He also anticipates an increase in traffic stops as the department participates in a Click it or Ticket campaign this week.

Multiple law enforcement agencies will be watching the water as well. Town officers will patrol the waterways around Wrightsville Beach in one boat, providing backup to the two vessels manned by the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.

In addition to enforcing wake zones and reckless boating, Bishop said his officers would “be available to assist the county if they have any issues at Masonboro [Island] or up at Mason Inlet.”

Sheriff’s office public information officer Jerry Brewer said his officers will mainly be responding to calls for service, like people causing problems due to intoxication, boating injuries or boat passengers falling overboard.

“There’s a ton of different issues that they respond to,” he said. “They’re just there to make sure everyone’s safe.”

Wrightsville Beach police will also be looking out for boaters who appear to be ferrying people to or from Masonboro Island. Unauthorized water taxying — accepting payment in return for ferry services — is against town Wrightsville Beach ordinances and punishable by a $100 fine, if the boat driver does not have a captain’s license or a master’s license.

Bishop said the town is trying to stop the practice because it leaves people stranded on the uninhabited island and they usually attempt to swim back through the inlet to the mainland.

“Obviously we don’t want people swimming Masonboro Inlet,” he said. “It creates a public safety issue not only for themselves, but for the ocean rescue officers who are having to pluck people out of the inlet.”

Returning Memorial Day visitors will also notice new parking rules around Wrightsville Beach. The town now meters parking lots with bathroom facilities until 7 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. and it recently added pay stations to Wrightsville Beach Park and town hall. Those pay stations allow two free hours, but visitors must still obtain a parking receipt and place it on their dashboard to avoid a ticket.

The intent, town manager Tim Owens said, is to deter all-day beachgoers from parking there so the spaces will be available to those using the park.

New regulations regarding parking in church lots will also be in effect May 27–30. While beachgoers will still be allowed to park in the lots, the rules require churches to provide the lots with trash receptacles and at least one adult attendant to prevent tailgating.

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