PROVINCETOWN — As the crowds of visitors grew larger and tensions mounted last week, the select board held an emergency meeting on July 2 at which Police Chief James Golden and Town Manager Robin Craver were taken to task for failing to assure public safety in the lead-up to the July Fourth weekend.
“I drive down the streets and I don’t see any officers,” said Robert Anthony, the select board member who served as police chief from 1992 to 2002.
Anthony said he developed a community policing program in the 1990s with then Town Manager Keith Bergman. Community policing, with officers politely asking people to wear masks and avoid crowds, was supposed to be part of the strategy to help keep people safe this summer. Craver also instituted an “ambassador” program, in which citizens adorned with red sashes were to begin educating the public on July 2.
But Anthony said he saw no evidence of community policing.
“The police are not doing their part,” agreed board member John Golden. “I’d like to see more officers on the streets.”
Anthony said the town manager, who is the chief’s boss, “has to step up.”
The select board voted to direct the police to be involved in increased on-street education and enforcement.
Chief Golden apologized for not being more clear about July Fourth preparations. His entire staff would be working the weekend, he told the select board Thursday. At the same time, he defended his performance, saying officers had been instructed since early May to talk to the public about safety during the pandemic, and to give out masks and brochures.
Photos Tell a Story
During the week before July Fourth, Provincetown shutterbugs used social media to post pictures of naked smiles and gatherings of large groups.
One picture taken by John Dowd documented a group of unmasked men lounging on the porch of 151 Commercial St. According to AirDNA, which tracks short-term rentals on Airbnb and other platforms, the four-bedroom house sleeps 10 and the owners, Scott Bickford and Kevin Quinn of Boston, earned $117,200 from renting it last year.
Perhaps the most damning photographs came from Herring Cove Beach. Various photos showed dozens of men in bathing suits but no masks. Dan McKeon said his friend took one of the pictures at 5 p.m. on Thursday, July 2.
A poster advertising a “Dunes Dance” on Friday, July 3 at 2 p.m. at the Boys Beach, a reference to that same part of Herring Cove, made its way to Cape Cod National Seashore rangers. The rangers showed up at the Boys Beach on Friday and broke up the party, said Seashore Supt. Brian Carlstrom.
But the National Park Service does not have mask or social distancing regulations, Carlstrom said, so its only enforcement tool is a ban on events taking place without a special permit. Since the organizer, listed on the poster as TBB Presents, did not have a permit, the rangers were able to prevent a repeat party on Saturday, Carlstrom said.
These events led directly to the select board’s reprimand of Golden and Craver. Some local businesspeople also voiced concerns.
“Up to the Fourth of July I didn’t see much proactive enforcement,” said Rob Anderson, co-owner of the Canteen restaurant. “It feels to me, as a business owner, that our status quo policing doesn’t seem like community policing.”
Police Out in Force
The issue is not just unmasked tourists but also house parties. Gatherings of more than 10 people are officially prohibited, but enforcement is not easy, said Steve Katsurinis, chair of the board of health.
Anthony said police should control both crowds and mask-wearing, even if that means issuing $300 fines.
“We have to be more aggressive,” Anthony said. “I hope, Robin, you are hearing me,” he added, referring to the town manager.
On July Fourth, the Nantucket Board of Health imposed a $1,000 fine on the owner of a downtown property where about 20 people gathered, not wearing masks, not staying six feet apart, and within the area of a mandatory mask order, according to the Inquirer & Mirror.
On Monday, Chief Golden said his officers did not issue any citations but had “hundreds of encounters over the long weekend — most were mask reminders.”
Officers gave out a few free masks and issued two warnings regarding crowds over 10, he said. They also responded to 10 noise complaints.
The four ambassadors, meanwhile, gave out masks, educational cards, and hand sanitizer, Craver said. Lots of public education happened, she said.
“We’ve got a great staff and the people I spoke with over the weekend were very pleased,” Craver said.
Anderson said the police were more visible on the weekend.
“I’m happy people were shook up enough to be a little more vigilant and prepared, however late we were to the game,” he said. “At least communication was opened up. I’m happy they got to the point.”
The weekend may have been a turning point, he said.
“On Saturday, I thought there was an appropriate amount of police and an appropriate level of compliance,” Anderson said. “It seems to me that things went pretty well.”
Anderson wondered if public behavior was cautious enough to prevent a new Covid-19 outbreak.
“I’m waiting to see in two weeks,” he said.