After a weekend that the police chief called one of the busiest in years, with several fights and more than 20 arrests, Oak Bluffs police and town officials said they are looking at better ways to manage the crowds that come to the town for the annual monster shark tournament.
“Our calls for service were way up, our incidents were way up, at times we were pretty much overwhelmed on Saturday night,” Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake told the selectmen at their meeting Tuesday.
“There was a lot of fighting and a lot of drinking. I’m glad that no one got seriously hurt.”
The Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, an annual event that draws boats and onlookers to the town and the harbor, was in town on Friday and Saturday, and the Portuguese-American Club’s annual Holy Ghost Festival took place Saturday and Sunday.
From Friday through Sunday, police reported 21 arrests, four people placed in protective custody, and 140 incidents. There were several reports of late-night fights: on Saturday night, two men were arrested after police said they got into a fist fight outside the Dive Bar, and another man was arrested after police observed him punch another man outside of Seasons Pub. Three men were arrested after what police said was a large fight on Kennebec avenue, with eight to 12 men fighting in the middle of the street, and between 20 and 30 spectators watching the action.
Mr. Blake said the incidents were not caused by the shark tournament itself, but rather the spectators who came to town. “The actual event itself went pretty smoothly, it was the nighttime after it was over that was really busy for us,” Mr. Blake said.
Selectman Michael Santoro, who owns the Lookout Tavern and Seasons Pub, said bars were faced with people who had been drinking all day.
“It’s an all-day event,” Mr. Blake responded. “For every 10 people you ask to pour out their beer, there are probably 200 more that are drinking. There’s not enough officers to tell everybody to pour out their beer.” He added that the tournament seemed to draw a younger crowd this year.
Mr. Blake said Steven James, president of tournament host Boston Big Game Fishing Club, pays for four police details at the parking lot near where sharks are weighed in, as well as a control boat.
“We could have used three more detail officers just for alcohol,” Mr. Blake said. He and the selectmen discussed having more police on hand in the future.
Harbormaster Todd Alexander said the number of boats in the harbor “might have been a record,” saying the number was close to 400.
“I’ve never seen the harbor that busy,” selectman Gregory Coogan agreed. He said even when all the fishing boats were gone, “the harbor was jammed.”
Mr. Alexander said that a sheriff’s boat, an environmental police boat, four harbor personnel boats and emergency management boat were in the harbor, and they “still could barely keep up with what was going on.”
“I don’t have much issue with the fishermen . . . it’s the spectators,” Mr. Alexander said. “It’s become, I don’t know what . . . a tailgate party.”
“And the thing is out there, a lot of those people, I don’t even think they’re looking for sharks or trying to catch a glimpse of a shark, because they never leave the boat, he added. “It’s just become a party for the sake of a party.”
Mr. Alexander said a few people swimming in the channel had to be chased down, and there was a lot of drinking and people using water balloon slingshots. He said a witness saw somebody load a beer can into one of the sling shots and fire it into the crowd, and that people threw bottles at Steve Maxner, who quietly protested the tournament from a kayak in the harbor. “That’s not anything to play around with,” he said.
“I don’t know what turns things into the events they become,” he added.
Mr. Santoro said there were also complaints about a lack of bathroom facilities, and selectmen questioned whether it was okay to have T-shirt sales and equipment on town-owned property.
“I have a recommendation,” Mr. Santoro said. “We can’t have the feast and the shark tournament the same weekend. It’s too taxing on the town.”
“We don’t need two big things on one weekend,” selectman Gail Barmakian agreed.
Mr. Blake suggested having a greater police presence in the future. “It’s having enough personnel to have a deterrent presence down there as well, and it’s probably a little more help during the day.”
“The police department [needs to] go back to doing operational plans for that weekend and do what we did on July 4, reach out to certain stakeholders . . . whether it’s the harbor master, or businesses or bar owners, just to be able to curtail some of the issues before they get to that point,” he said.
Selectman Walter Vail pointed out that the police closed down a monster energy drink giveaway, and he emphasized that contrary to some rumors, it was not a free beer giveaway.
“Obviously this was the event of the summer,” Mr. Blake said, adding that the department did not anticipate the turnout.
Selectmen had discussions over the winter and spring about the tournament, with a local group, Vineyarders Against Sharks, imploring the selectmen not to allow the tournament to take place in town, or to prohibit dead sharks from the marina. Selectmen said this week that the discussions spurred more publicity for the event, which in turn might have led to bigger crowds.
The board agreed to put the issue on a future meeting agenda and to invite Mr. James to come to discuss the tournament, saying they need to have more meetings and start talking about the festival earlier.
“We have plenty to talk about,” board chairman Kathy Burton said, thanking Mr. Blake for the department’s work.
In other business, selectmen heard the results from an audit of fiscal year 2012, which pointed out that though progress has been made, the town still is not on solid financial footing, needs to address several issues, and remains in worse shape compared to other towns.
The management letter for the audit, performed by the accounting firm Powers and Sullivan, said that two out of 16 prior-year recommendations and comments were not completely addressed, including oversight over accrued and unused vacation time for the police department, a lack of formal policies and procedures manuals, and policies for use of town property.
The firm added three recommendations for the current year, starting with the town requiring proper invoices before payment. The letter noted some instances, including a $415,000 dredging project, in which paid invoices had less than ideal support.
The management letter further recommended that the town reconcile unclaimed checks to vendors and employees and reconcile Community Preservation Act funds with bank statements.
Ms. Burton said the selectmen will work with the auditing company, the new town accountant, Arthur Gallagher, and town administrator Robert Whritenour to address policies and procedures that need to be changed.
“I have my job cut out for me,” Mr. Gallagher said.
Town administrator Robert Whritenour told selectmen that progress has been made and the town would use the audit results as a guide to continue to work on problem areas. Mr. Whritenour said he will go over year-end financial information at the next selectmen’s meeting.
“I do have a better feeling going forward,” Mr. Whritenour said.
About half an hour into the meeting, a thunderstorm rolled in, bringing with it a deluge of rain. Mr. Coogan and Mr. Santoro ran to their cars to close open windows, coming back rather wet.
“Does anybody have a towel?” Ms. Burton asked.