The NYPD appears to be cracking down on Rockaway Beach's illicit vendors, as part of a "community policing" initiative aimed at satisfying local neighborhood groups and business owners.
According to multiple police officers who spoke with Gothamist this weekend, the new enforcement blitz is primarily focused on those selling nutcrackers—the colorful homemade cocktails commonly found along beaches and city streets throughout the summer.
On Sunday, at least one person was arrested while peddling drinks along the crowded beach. Video shared with Gothamist shows six police officers surrounding the man near Beach 84th Street, then escorting him away in handcuffs.
Josephine Livingstone, a journalist at the New Republic who took the footage, told Gothamist it seemed as though police had singled out the man for "special punishment in front of a bunch of people." Another witness, Clio Chang, added that the officers confiscated his bag prior to leading him away in handcuffs.
As a heavy police presence strolled the boardwalk and beach on Sunday, the officers acknowledged that they'd been ordered to "crack down" on the summer cocktails.
Officer Leach, who declined to provide his first name, told Gothamist that the added attention on nutcrackers is a direct result of neighborhood complaints, fueled in part by a recent story in New York Magazine that claimed cops "turn a blind eye" toward the transactions.
The officer said that members of the local community council were already concerned about crime on the boardwalk, "then freaked out when they saw the article." Local business owners have also lamented the perceived lack of enforcement around the drinks, which they claim are eating into profits at the boardwalk concessions.
Meanwhile, those who make and sell the fruity punches say they're just giving New Yorkers one more reason to take advantage of the city's coastline. "Hundreds, maybe even thousands of people are attracted to our beaches partly because of our service," one vendor, who asked to remain anonymous, told Gothamist. "It's a New York service we are providing."
Unlike the nearby beaches Jacob Riis and Fort Tilden, Rockaway Beach and its adjacent boardwalk are under the control of the NYC Parks Department. The NYPD has occasionally ramped up enforcement of open container laws on the beach in the past, even going so far as to demand beach-goers open up their coolers for inspection. (You are not obligated to consent to such searches; there is also a loophole for drinking in public, which technically prevents police from issuing a summons unless they can see the brand of alcohol or perform a lab test).
But while Officer Leach noted that the crackdown may soon extend to individuals drinking on beaches, he said cops were most immediately interested in stopping the nutcracker vendors. "A lot of them have warrants," he told Gothamist. "Anytime you have a warrant, you're a fugitive."
The officer also repeatedly described the clamp down as "community policing," referring to Mayor Bill de Blasio's ongoing effort to improve the relationship between cops and the community.
The Mayor's Office did not respond to Gothamist's inquiries about whether arresting people for selling drinks constituted community policing.
A spokesperson for the NYPD would not provide additional details about what charges the man faced, and their press office declined to share data on the number of arrests or summonses issued this weekend for selling or consuming alcohol on Rockaway Beach.
Asked about the crackdown during an unrelated press conference on Monday, Police Commissioner James O'Neill denied that the NYPD's approach had changed: "Nutcrackers, you know what they are, right?" he told a reporter. "They contain alcohol. There's no alcohol in public parks. Do we do enforcement? Yeah, we do enforcement. I wouldn't call it a blitz."
UPDATE: A spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio told Gothamist the mayor was not involved in the matter, and directed further questions to the NYPD.