Officials in the Bay County and Panama City Beach areas are continuing talks on whether to put some restrictions on Spring Break in the area. Several local business leaders and concerned residents started off the discussion earlier this week by offering some input at a recent Bay County Commission public workshop, and new rules could be adopted in a Panama City Beach Council meeting Thursday.
Thousands of people travel to Panama City Beach for Spring Break each year during the months of March and April, but over the years, law enforcement has reported an increase in crime, like gun violence, drugs, disorderly conduct on the beach, and even murder.
Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen says he’s seen the bad behavior on the beach, and he adds it has to stop.
“Spring Break is out of control, and we’re a beer bottle away from a riot,” said McKeithen.
McKeithen says local law enforcement don’t have enough resources to police everything that’s been going on, but he has several suggestions that he believes could solve some of the problem, like disallowing alcoholic beverages on the beach, requiring any person with an alcoholic drink to have a valid ID, and stopping businesses from serving alcohol after 2 a.m.
“We as restaurant owners, night club owners, etc… went through the list and we agreed right away with three of those ideas. The two outstanding points, the no drinking on the beach and the closing at 2 a.m,” said Neil Bennett, who represents several businesses on the beach.
Bennett says they’re in support of most of the Sheriff’s recommendations and hopes they’ll help get rid of unwanted visitors to the Panama City Beach area.
“I just don’t want to see what happened on FOX and those idiots who got up in front of a camera ruin it for future travelers that come here,” he added.
A FOX report by Sean Hannity highlighted this year’s Spring Break in Panama City Beach. It got many local business leaders, concerned residents, Bay County officials, and city leaders upset.
“While it embarrassed us, it brought some things to light. It really touched on some things that have been going on for years and we got people interested in what’s going on here,” said Bay County Commission Chairman Guy Tunnell.
While the meeting was led by the Bay County Commissioners, city officials weighed in as well.
“We have to be very strict this Spring Break that’s coming. If it’s too strict, we can always step back. But, if we don’t do something, there’s going to be a full scale riot. It’s really scary. I was afraid for my life,” said Panama City Beach Councilwoman Josie Strange.
But, Russell Kinslow urged caution. Representing several employees who work on the beach, he says officials need to get it right the first time or risk a backlash.
“There’s no pulling back from the internet these days. You put out the information that Spring Break is going away in Panama City Beach. And, with Mr. Bennett’s comments, that if you ban alcohol on the beach, it will change the culture of Panama City Beach—not just Spring Break, but the Summer as well,” Kinslow responded to applause. “Most things are headlines these days.”
The Bay County Commission agreed to adopt a resolution stating their support for the county Sheriff’s recommendations, but it’s really up to the Panama City Beach City Council to decide what changes will go into effect.
City Mayor Gayle Oberst, who sits on the council, says they’ll continue to look into efforts that won’t hurt Panama City Beach’s economy.
“They may seem extreme to some people and they may not seem not extreme enough to some people. But, we’re searching diligently for that happy medium, that thing we can do to bring Spring Break more under control and yet not kill Spring Break as we know it without a replacement of revenue,” said Oberst.
The council’s next meeting is Thursday at 6 p.m., and the topic of Spring Break is on the agenda. Oberst says council members could adopt some or all of the Bay County Sheriff’s recommendation.
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