Saturday nights in Dewey Beach used to be the busiest for town police.
But now, town officials say, it’s Tuesday night, and they blame the problem on dollar drink night at Northbeach.
The issue came to light during the monthly commissioners meeting June 20. The item was not posted on the agenda, but it was addressed during the meeting as a matter of public safety.
Dewey Police Chief Sam Mackert told the commissioners he is afraid for his officers' safety. He said the incidents have reached a level beyond a slap fight or just pushing and shoving; the incidents have the potential for somebody to get hurt. The town needs to mitigate this volatile situation, he said.
“This is something that really needs attention,” Mackert said.
Mackert said people leaving Northbeach after dollar drink night caused a fight at the Wawa in Lewes in the early morning hours of June 4 that resulted in the arrests of three people.
Wawa is open 365 days a year, said Mackert, but now they’re closing for Northbeach nights.
“We’ve got a situation here,” he said.
Delaware State Police Master Cpl. Gary Fournier said June 23 that the assumption is the crowd involved in the fight at the Lewes Wawa had just come from Northbeach.
Wawa representatives did not respond to an inquiry as to whether the store will close Tuesday night or Wednesday morning because of Northbeach.
Dewey Town Manager Marc Appelbaum said he and Mackert are asking town commissioners to create something that gives more teeth to enforcement efforts when a business offers a promotion such as dollar drink night.
The public welfare is at risk, Appelbaum said.
Northbeach owner Alex Pires flat out denies that Northbeach is the source of the problems. From the Cape Gazette office June 23, he said the Tuesday night dollar drink specials have been going on for more than a decade, and there have been no issues.
Nothing discussed during that meeting is factual, Pires said. "It's all drama and hyperbole," he said.
Located on the bayside of McKinley Street in Dewey, immediately south of Ivy, Northbeach, with its large parking lot, is tucked into an area with relatively little lighting. The business is home to the Dewey Devil, and all but one of the events scheduled under the Northbeach link at Deweybeachlife.com as of June 23 are Tuesday dollar drink nights.
Dewey Police Sgt. Cliff Dempsey said the town has seen similar promotional events, but for some reason, this one at Northbeach on Tuesday nights has gotten much larger than others. He credited social media outlets as a way for groups of people to spread the word that they would make the trip to the small beach town.
He said the event is drawing crowds from Wilmington and Salisbury, Md., noting it’s a very rowdy crowd.
Dempsey described the scene that began late June 17 and spilled into the early morning hours of June 18. When the bar closed, and customers poured into the Ivy parking lot at 1:05 a.m., he said, it’s a couple of the town’s officers standing amongst 800 people.
By 1:08 a.m., said Dempsey, there were two female officers screaming into their radios for backup. He said there was one fight in the parking lot; next came a fight up the street; and then another fight back in the parking lot. He attributed all three fights to the large crowd coming from the bar.
“It went down hill very fast,” he said.
Eight state police officers responded to help, Dempsey said. Officers had their sirens running for a solid five minutes, but the crowd didn’t move; it took 45 minutes to clear the area, he said.
“It seemed like that hour was three days,” he said, describing the situation as a powder keg ready to explode.
Cpl. Fournier said state police were called to assist Dewey Beach police with a fight in the early morning hours of June 18; although the number of troopers that arrived on the scene is undetermined.
Dempsey said 99 percent of the people in town on Tuesday are good people, but it’s that 1 percent who are causing a big problem.
Dempsey said part of the problem is the town’s police staff is cut in half on Monday and Tuesday nights because they are traditionally quiet nights.
“If the troopers weren’t there, I don’t know what we would have done,” he said.
An elderly woman who lives on McKinley Street by herself said it’s scary. When asked for her name, she refused saying that she had already received threats and didn’t want anything to happen.
Until the situation is resolved, Dewey Mayor Diane Hanson advised people who live in this area not to go out between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.
“If you’re going to take the dog out late, go out before 11, that’s for sure,” she said.
Commissioner Gary Mauler asked Dempsey if the police department had looked into using nonlethal sonic weapons as a way to control the crowd.
Commissioner David Jasinski didn’t like the idea of the town trying to show massive signs of force.
“We just need to stop it from happening,” he said.
Hanson said the town needs to sit down and figure out a way end this. Not to put a band-aid on it, she said, but a way to stop it.