On Night Patrol in Edgartown
By MANDY LOCKE
It's 10 o'clock on Friday night in Edgartown. Kids with ice cream cones and fathers with strollers disappeared from Main street hours ago. A sea of 20-somethings and 40-somethings who dream about being 20-something again has replaced the crowds of families shuffling through the streets of downtown.
Women glide down the brick sidewalks in runway fashion in their newest brightly colored tank tops. Men trail them, staking claims early. One cannot mistake a certain urgency in the crowd's pace. Only two and a half hours until the bars close. Drinks to be consumed, phone numbers to be exchanged.
It's a scene that Edgartown police officers have seen a million times before. Yet they watch with the attentiveness of newcomers. Anything could happen along the pristine streets of Edgartown, and they want to be there the second anything is amiss.
10:04 p.m. A call comes in from an off-duty officer who overhears a few underage women asking a young man to buy them alcohol. A lengthy description of the buyer and young women screeches across the scanner in the unmarked police car of Sgt. Antone Bettencourt. Officers patrolling the downtown area keep their eyes peeled.
10:18 p.m. An officer spots a young man who matches the buyer's description using the pay phone near The Navigator. Within minutes, four officers surround the befuddled man. A brief line of questioning and a request for identification reveals that the buyer is underage as well. A missing hologram on a Georgia driver's license is all special officer Sean Kelleher needs to see. Within minutes, the officers locate the three cases of beer he purchased for the now missing underage women. Officer Will Oteri escorts the handcuffed young man to his car for a trip to the Dukes County jail.
Back in the car, Sergeant Bettencourt shakes his head about the incident.
"People don't think it's a big deal to buy alcohol for minors," he says.
"I feel like I saved myself some work for later on," he says, proud they could remove the alcohol from the hands of underaged drinkers.
10:34 p.m. Back at the station, officers fight yawns as they change shifts. Even the officers just beginning the shift feel the strain of the long holiday week. While vacationers headed to the beach and to the Fourth of July parade this week, Edgartown officers worked double time. Many of them clocked as much as 40 hours of overtime in just a week.
"It's not a nine-to-five job. It never has been, and it never will be," says Sergeant Bettencourt, whose shift ends at 2 a.m. and whose next shift begins just six hours later.
10:50 p.m. All is quiet along the roads leading into Edgartown. The streets are secure with 12 officers in cruisers, on bikes or on foot patrol. Sergeant Bettencourt listens to the scanner as he drives along West Tisbury Road. An officer across town pulls over a speeder, a car doing 65 miles per hour in a 25 zone. He calls an officer stationed downtown on his Alltell phone to check on the crowds. About half the officers carry these phones, making communication much easier without having to fight the heavy scanner traffic.
Sergeant Bettencourt turns into the airport for a quick loop. With one eye on the road ahead, he surveys the buildings along the strip, looking for any unusual activity.
"I'm always looking around. I'm not trying to be heroic; it's just normal," he says.
11:47 p.m. Detective Craig Edwards pulls his unmarked Navigator into an empty space along Main street. He stops to chat briefly with Sgt. Richard Krauss, who keeps guard on the corner of Main street and North Water. From his vantage point in front of the Edgartown Paper Store, Sergeant Krauss can make eye contact with nearly all of the officers posted up and down the streets.
"It's interesting to see people stone sober walking down Main street. Then three hours later, you see them again, completely altered," Sergeant Krauss says.
In front of the Wharf, the smokers spill onto the sidewalks, obeying the new smoking ordinance in Edgartown. A haze of smoke floats above their heads, and a sea of cigarette butts litters the sidewalk and street below their feet.
It's about 20 minutes from last call when some of the crowd begins to stagger from the bar. Women clutch arms to keep from tripping on their stacked shoes.
Officers move in closer to the scene, preparing to block off the lower portion of Main street when the bars officially close. The now-chatty bar crowd stops to talk with uniformed officers, asking about where to find a taxi. The alcohol robbed them of a concept of personal space, and officers try to keep a professional distance from women drawn to their uniforms.
One woman shouts in her whisper voice, "Why are there so many police around? There's no crime in Martha's Vineyard."
Sergeant Bettencourt shakes his head.
"I should let her read the log," he says.
12:32 a.m. Bouncers begin directing the crowd onto the street, where they linger, shielded from any sense of rush. Some head to Dockside, driven by the lure of late night munchies and coffee.
People begin to pair off. Others hail a cab with a group of friends. Officers allow the taxis to break the normal loading and unloading time restrictions. They want to see the crowds get home safely, and each taxi eliminates a potential DWI call later in the night. Detective Edwards confesses that they do not tow cars left overnight in Edgartown.
"We should reward people instead of penalize them for knowing when to not drive home," he says.
1:07 a.m. Only a small remnant of the crowd lingers in the streets. The officers reopen Main street, allowing the cabs to sweep in and grab the remaining people. Bar closing passes without incident, something all of the officers like to see.
1:28 a.m. Officer Oteri hops in his cruiser to respond to a noise complaint in Dodger's Hole. This is a familiar drill for Officer Oteri. With an ordinance restricting any noise that can be heard more than 50 feet from a house between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., breaking up house parties is a regular part of weekend duty.
Two more Edgartown cruisers follow Officer Oteri to the scene. A few state police cars follow suit, offering backup if necessary. Unsure of the size of the party, the police prepare for anything.
Dodger's Hole tonight looks more like an interstate at rush hour than a residential development asleep for the night. Nearly 75 poorly parked cars line the narrow streets. Officers step from the cars and inform the new arrivals that the party is officially over. The officers are momentarily confused as they hear noise bellowing from more than one house. They follow the crowds of young college students, certain they know where the big party is.
Small groups of people - they look barely older than teenagers - loiter in the yard of the house and nearby street. Beer bottles litter the driveway. Officers begin to direct the oblivious crowd to cars. The nightmare of unclogging the traffic jam follows. Officer Oteri searches for the renters of the house. After asking for identification, he calmly explains the noise ordinance in Edgartown.
"If we have to come back, then we will make arrests. We don't want to come back any more than you don't want us to," Officer Oteri says.
After the officers reduce the hundreds of people into a manageable 12, they circle the neighborhood again. The thumping of rap music echoes from the first house they passed. A few guests talk on cell phones in the yard, but most of the partiers remain in the house. The drill repeats itself as Officer Christopher Dolby tells the renter about the noise ordinance. The renter starts to argue with the officer, but she knows she stands no chance.
"I'm just suggesting to you to turn the music all the way off, so that we don't have to come back. I guarantee you that your neighbors will continue to call and complain if it remains on," Officer Dolby says calmly.
"Telling us to turn off the music is like telling us not to be black," one of the guests says with a laugh.
The music stops, the guests return inside, the officers get back into their cruisers.
It's nearly 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning in July. Four hours until daybreak, four more hours before the end of the night shift for the Edgartown police.