Bay County officials are considering changes to the rules for drinking and partying in Panama City Beach in response to rampant crime there. The crackdown comes as Spring Break partying reaches new levels.
Panama City Beach has a problem. For one month each year, it becomes one of the most popular places for college students to drink, relax and party during the annual Spring Break. And while hundreds of thousands of guests mean big bucks for business owners, the influx of visitors—some of whom are not students—means a significant jump in crime, especially in recent years. Bay County Commissioner Mike Thomas is proposing massive changes that would affect how people do business during Spring Break.
“Some of this has gone too far, and we’ve got to rein this in,” Thomas says. “It will hurt some people during the month of March, and there’s no doubt about it: this will cause a catastrophic injury to some businesses.”
Thomas says he will propose changes to local noise and zoning ordinances. Thomas says residents want to feel safer, but the issue is as much about public relations as it is about safety.
“If you allow a spirit or a culture of debauchery to just run wild that one month, I think it hurts you the other eleven,” Thomas says.
The Bay County Commission is meeting Tuesday for an emergency session about Spring Break. The city is still reeling after a gunman shot seven people Saturday, critically wounding three young female students and injuring another four people. A Bay County Sheriff’s Office official says deputies from several nearby counties are assisting local law enforcement. Authorities report seizing more than 40 firearms since March 1—when Spring Break started.