Virginia Beach police prepared for college beach weekend

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach police say they are ready for this year’s college beach weekend. The event has sparked violence in the past.

“I definitely think it can happen again,” said Coleman Ferguson.

What happened in 2013 is something everyone would like to forget.

“These people that come into town, they are rowdy and ready to party,” Ferguson added. “It is their spring break and they are there to party and have a good time.”

Four years ago, Ferguson was working at the ABC store at the Oceanfront. It was a night he can’t forget.

“It almost felt like somebody had just dropped off a bus outside,” Ferguson said. “It was that busy.”

The store was packed. It became overwhelming, so the store closed.

“Then, people were throwing their flip-flops at the door, throwing their drinks at the door and cursing,” Ferguson said.

Police were called.

“It felt like five hours for the cops to get there,” Ferguson said. “It took 20 minutes in reality.”

“That was a bad weekend,” added Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera.

Cervera is on record saying his staff was unprepared for the 40,000 people at the Oceanfront. There were stabbings, shootings and armed robberies. More than 150 people were arrested.

The chief says lessons were learned and 2013 is in the rear view mirror.

“It seems that over the years, maybe some people take a negative look at it, but we look at it as another large-scale holiday weekend,” Cervera added.

Almost every officer on the department will be working down at the Oceanfront. Officers will be on bikes, horses, motorcycles, in cruisers and walking around.

“One of the biggest things that we have done since 2013 — believe it or not — is, as simple as it sounds, we took this idea from Boston Police Department. All officers are in reflective vests,” Cervera said. “You might say, ‘What does that have to do with large-scale events?’ Everybody sees the police.”

“I think young people, when they see authority want to rebel,” said Betty Barkers-Woode, a Regent University sophomore.

Beach police also began an ambassador program. Forty college kids will serve as liaisons between the crowd and officers.

“It helps them, because we’re their peers and can tell them what to do,” Barkers-Woode said. “Not in a confrontational way, just like ‘Hey, trying to look out for you. You should really not be doing this.'”

The ambassadors will be the eyes and ears for police. Their goal is to send a peaceful message to crowds in order to stop any potential violence.

“The police officers are there to help you,” Barkers-Woode added. “They are there to help them, not to harm them.”

As of 10 p.m. Friday night, police dispatchers told 10 On Your Side there had been no incidents linked to the tourist weekend.

Local families enjoying the beach Friday said they don’t expect anything serious to happen.

“Safety is always a concern,” said Claire Campbell, a mother. “But Virginia Beach Police have done an absolutely wonderful job.”

“We think they’ve cleaned it up a lot in the last few years,” another parent said. “We don’t go out as much at night, but during the day it’s a little family oriented.”