By Steve Plunkett
Police are hamstrung by state rules that limit what they can do in Lake Boca, where a man drowned this April during the hugely popular Boca Bash.
City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser calls the state preemptions “just so surprisingly restrictive” when it comes to boating and local governments.
“Perhaps they weren’t originally designed for these types of, kind of massive, events. They were just intended for boating and navigation, open waterways, so this is kind of an unusual thing,” Frieser said June 11 as the City Council reviewed this year’s bash.
The event, which now attracts about 1,500 vessels and 10,000 attendees to Lake Boca, started in 2006 as a birthday celebration and, though not sponsored, grew through word of mouth, a web page, printed flyers and social media, Police Chief Dan Alexander said.
A 32-year-old West Palm Beach man, Francis Roselin, was found under 5 feet of water April 29 after he had last been seen swimming in the lake. His was the first death to occur at a Boca Bash event.
Alexander assigned 38 police officers to the event; together they worked a collective 553.75 hours at a cost to Boca Raton taxpayers of $35,402. City fire-rescue units answered 15 calls for help with total personnel costs of $9,318.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission assisted Boca police along with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Boynton Beach police’s marine unit, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The FWC issued six boating under the influence citations, handled 16 other violations and made 15 public assists, Alexander reported. His officers issued seven citations, nine warnings and seven juvenile referrals.
The Police Department created a “safety lane” on the lake for marine patrol boats to get through, but beyond that could do very little to control the crowd, Alexander said. The Wildflower site next to the boat launch at Silver Palm Park was closed, as was Pioneer Park in Deerfield Beach.
“Actually the most significant events that we’ve had don’t involve law enforcement,” Alexander said. “The drowning wasn’t a law enforcement-related event. We had a fractured neck at one point that was pretty significant but again, that wasn’t a function of enforcement.”
Frieser suggested the city lobby the legislature to change Florida law.
“But the state has been very slow in trying to be flexible to allow local governments more control over these … events that cause real public harm,” she said.
Mayor Scott Singer said the city should remind organizers next year of this year’s drowning.
“There’s a very fine line between … a fun afternoon boating and a very unsafe afternoon that has significant ramifications,” he said.