Recent reports of overly aggressive panhandling, fights and drunken nakedness at the Key Haven boat ramp have sparked a three-month special operation by local law enforcement agencies.
The Sheriff's Office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are joining forces to crack down on the begging and other criminal mischief going on at the public boat ramp, which has become a hangout for vagrants and people living on boats in Boca Chica Basin, Sheriff Rick Ramsay told Monroe County commissioners on Tuesday.
"People are afraid to use the boat ramp," Ramsay said. "People are being accosted by people begging for money ... . We do not want to punish good boaters who just want to use the facilities."
In addition to the FWC patrolling the waters off the boat ramp, the Sheriff's Office will have two boats, with two deputies per boat, patrolling the waters two days a week to start, Ramsay said. If crime subsides, the Sheriff's Office will reduce the boat patrols to one boat, with one deputy, one day a week, he said.
The two agencies will also be stepping up enforcement at the Shark Key boat ramp and on the bayfront of Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo, as both the FWC and the Sheriff's Office are receiving complaints about vagrants loitering and engaging in other minor criminal mischief in those two areas.
Ramsay is also lobbying state transportation officials to place 'no overnight parking' and 'no loitering' signs at the Key Haven and Shark Key boat ramps, he said.
The Key Haven boat ramp has been especially problematic in the past several years.
In May, a dispute over a woman led to a stabbing and a scooter being tossed in the water, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin said.
In January, deputies arrested a naked man at the boat ramp after he reportedly walked up to a woman at a nearby stoplight, punched her and then ran away.
Michael "Gypsy" Stanier, 59, beaten and bloodied, was found dead near the Key Haven boat ramp on March 31, 2008.
The boat ramp and adjoining mangroves also have become a dumping ground for beer bottles, boat parts, human waste and other trash.
The Sheriff's Office held a cleanup between the boat ramp and Murray Marine in late July. "The smell was horrendous," said Herrin, who participated in the cleanup.