According to one Rockaway resident, police have escalated their enforcement of open container laws on the beach by searching individuals' coolers. The unnamed local tells the Post, "We’ve had cops drive past us on the beach and ask to see what’s in our coolers. It sucks! They’re targeting families who are just trying to enjoy themselves at the beach — people who might drink one or two beers in a red cup."
But are you legally obligated to let police search your cooler? According to the NYCLU, the answer is no. "You never have to consent to a search of yourself, your belongings, your car or your house," says NYCLU spokesperson Jennifer Carnig. "We tell people to always ask to see a warrant, and if there is none, as would clearly be the case here, tell the cops you don't consent to the search. It may not stop the search from happening, but it will protect your rights later."
Here's a palm card you can download to your phone that explicitly spells out your rights in the event you are stopped by the NYPD.
So if an officer asks to search your cooler at the beach, you can refuse, but you should be prepared for the consequences. The officer may say, "Open the cooler or I'll arrest you"—and this is not an empty threat. Of course, if it comes to that, you may have a good case against the city in a civil lawsuit and could be in for a fat taxpayer-funded settlement down the road. The system works!
According to the Post, so-called "quality of life" summonses (open container violations, public urination, walking dogs on the beach) tripled at Rockaway beach on Memorial Day weekend. Police issued 152 such summonses, compared to 50 during the holiday weekend last year. But one police source attributes the spike to much better weather this year.
Most summonses for quality of life violations are $50, so you could also just decide to eat it. But Carnig adds that summonses are not without consequences: "As for crackdowns on low level offenses, a summons can carry very serious repercussions with it for a person's life. Something as minor as a ticket for a bike on the sidewalk or an open container can sweep a young person up into the criminal justice system and can have devastating impacts on the person's life. It's an issue we're watching closely."
In any case, be aware that alcohol consumption is illegal on NYC beaches, and if you are drinking, you should know that the NYPD has plainclothes cops on the beach beat too. Be discreet, and remember your SOLO cups. And your sunscreen. And maybe bring an umbrella, too? I definitely want you home by dinner. That Darryl isn't driving, is he? Here's money for the subway and a snack...