Sheriff’s Office discontinues Marathon neighborhood checkpoints, assessing need for them in Lower Keys as conditions improve

Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies will no longer man checkpoints on streets in Marathon neighborhoods, and the agency will conduct “daily assessments” about discontinuing them on Lower Keys streets where Hurricane Irma hit hardest, but conditions slowly, but steadily, improve.

Sheriff Rick Ramsay said his deputies must transition to patrolling the entirety of the Keys now that most residents have returned home and are repairing their storm-damaged homes and cleaning up their properties.

The smaller checkpoints were set up to keep out people who may be looking to loot vulnerable homes and businesses after a large mainland checkpoint was dismantled in Florida City and people were allowed back into the Keys earlier this week.

Ramsay said during a Thursday morning conference call with other state, local and federal officials that through the hard work of many agencies, utilities and volunteers, the Keys “are getting back to some semblance of normalcy” less than two weeks after Irma tore through the island chain as a powerful and massive Category 4 storm.

“We have to get back to patrolling,” Ramsay said Thursday. “We think its more effective at this point to be everywhere.”

Deputy Becky Herrin, the Sheriff’s Office media relations officer, said the checkpoints are no longer needed in the city of Marathon as electricity and water services are mostly restored there. The Sheriff’s Office will assess Lower Keys neighborhoods daily and determine which checkpoints on Keys like Big Pine, Cudjoe, Summerland, Sugarloaf and the Torches can be discontinued.

But some of these areas suffered massive infrastructure damage, and it could be a long while before water, power and sewer come back. Therefore, Herrin said, deputies could be needed to stand watch to make sure only residents are going there for the foreseeable future.

“We anticipate there will be some areas where we will have checkpoints for some time,” she said.

As far as reports of looting are concerned, Ramsay urged people not to believe everything they read on social media. There have been very few instances of looting, and the perpetrators so far have all been locals.

“Just because you see it on Facebook doesn’t mean it’s true,” Ramsay said.

He added that several reports of looting actually turned out to be people sorting through piles of trash and debris that people have cleared out of their yards and placed on the street to be hauled away.

“There is a difference between going through trash and looting,” Ramsay said.

Curfews, which as of Thursday remained 10 p.m. to dawn from the Seven Mile Bridge north to the Miami-Dade line, dusk to dawn from Stock Island to the bridge and midnight to dawn in Key West proper, will also likely soon be lifted in many areas.

Ramsay said they’ve been “very effective at keeping people from moving around,” but as residents begin going back to work, the curfews are “getting hard to justify.”

Ramsay added that the roughly 2,000 U.S. Army National Guard soldiers who were sent to the Keys and who helped deputies patrol hard-hit areas, are beginning to go home. Ramsay said their help was needed and is appreciated, but his people are now in a position to resume full operations.

“We’re becoming more independent than dependent to survive,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported Lower Keys checkpoints were discontinued. Only city of Marathon checkpoints were removed. The Sheriff’s Office is assessing daily the need for them in hard-hit Lower Keys neighborhoods and will discontinue them there as conditions continue to improve.