Oceanfront braces for college beach weekend

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Shootings, stabbings, assaults and robberies — that was the scene one year ago at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront during college beach weekend. Several local businesses are preparing for the worst, but the police chief has a plan to keep this year’s crowd under control.

“Public safety is a huge issue for me, my employees, my customers, so I want to make sure anyone that comes here is not put in harms way,” said Richard Kowalewitch of R.K’s Surf Shop.

During the April 2013 event, police made nearly 150 arrests and at least eight people were injured. The memory of the chaos from last year is still fresh in the minds of business owners, not just for their customers, but also for themselves and their employees.

“Since last year, we’re all kind of afraid to walk out of here in the evening or even to have people to come in here and cause trouble,” said Susan Lynch of 15th Street Raw Bar. “We were afraid to walk to our cars by ourselves. I wouldn’t even come down here if I wasn’t working.”

But Police Chief Jim Cervera said he’s confident in the safety and security plan for this weekend, which involves the community, hotels and local businesses: “We’re very confident. Matter of fact we had another briefing this morning from the operations division.”

Cervera says everyone wants to avoid a repeat of the violence and the Virginia Beach Police Department has been working hard to make that a reality.

“We’ve been scrubbing social media as best as we can,” he said. “We have seen an uptick in some of the flyers that are out among various college kids.”

While Cervera said he can’t say in real numbers how many people to expect at the Oceanfront, he said security plans are in place for a large crowd.

“We are viewing this weekend as we would the major weekend of Fourth of July,” he said. “Therefore the entire department will be mobilized this weekend. We have a lot of citizen support. We have a lot of business support with our plan. We have various traffic plans. We have various security plans in and around the beach borough.”

The chief said all 806 police officers, including himself, will be working this coming weekend to keep the beach as safe as possible. There’s flexibility in that plan to pare down the number of officers as needed.

While police have assured the public they are more prepared this year, businesses are making their own security precautions. Several hotels and motels have hired their own security. Kowalewitch says he plans to close early, if things get out of hand.

“My philosophy is very simple: I’ll play it by ear,” Kowalewitch said. “When I sense it’s going bad, I will close it down and make sure my employees get home.”

Other businesses, like 15th Street Raw Bar, aren’t waiting. Lynch said the business has already decided to close early, Friday at 11 p.m. and Saturday at 9 p.m. The bar even cancelled band performances planned for the weekend.

While neither of the businesses 10 On Your Side talked to are 100 percent sure there will even be a college beach weekend this year, they say they don’t want to take any chances and that losing revenue for just the possibility of violence is worth it.


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