Sarasota leaders plan crackdown, stiffer penalties for unpermitted events

On Thanksgiving weekend, a crowd overflowed onto the street just off Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Sarasota.

"We had noise complaints from citizens. The event went on until 4 in the morning," said Sarasota Police Department Chief Bernadette DiPino.

Officers had to be pulled from their zones to respond to the crowd.

"They had tents set up. It was like an event. It was one that was not planned," said Chief DiPino, adding that the city would have to approve a permit for such an event. "It was over 1,000 people there and no one was wearing a mask. It put our officers in danger, it put the community in danger."

The chief is asking the city for help in putting an end to unplanned and unapproved street parties and events.

In the last year, DiPino said there have been at least 10 events held without permits, raising concerns for health and general safety.

"One [event] ended up with a woman being shot in the leg, and the potential for that to happen [exists] any time you have large groups of people, crowds, there’s a potential for fights to break out. Alcohol is being served. It can lead to uncontrolled behavior," she said.

City commissioners agreed with the chief during their meeting Monday.

"In all fairness, it should be rather uniform throughout the city," Commissioner Kyle Battie said. "What’s fair one should be fair for somebody else. One shouldn't have preference over the other."

The commission has asked DiPino to help them come up with a plan for handling unplanned events.

"I was hoping they would look at holding event planners responsible if they have an event that hasn’t been preapproved. It doesn’t have to be law enforcement, it could be code enforcement. It has to be a severe enough punishment that the person knows it’s not worth my time to put this event together because I could be held responsible," the chief said.