Should Panama City Beach’s Spring Break be considered just the month of March or incorporate more months? It was a matter of contention during Tuesday's Council meeting.
Is Spring Break only in March?
Crime and other negative impacts of Panama City Beach’s Spring Break popularity has led Council member Keith Curry to say Spring Break falls within three months, rather than just one.
“From Feb. 12th to April 9th, the colleges are going to be here,” said Curry, during Tuesday's Council meeting. “It’s college Spring Break. And, as evidenced by the wounded warrior retreat, two frat groups from two colleges can have a big impact.”
But, the council agreed in a 3-2 vote to make March Spring Break, with Curry and Councilwoman Josie Strange casting the opposing votes. During Spring Break, rules are imposed. Under ordinances the council initially passed Tuesday and still require a second vote, that could include banning the possession or consumption of alcohol on the beach as well as banning alcohol sales past 2 a.m. during Spring Break.
Spring Break Rules and Law Enforcement
In the wake of the Panama City Beach Council giving initial approval to multiple ordinances aimed at cracking down on Spring Break, some are asking if the new proposed rules are enforceable.
Hector Solis is with “Citizens for a New Panama City Beach.” His group attended a Council meeting in late March reviewing the latest crackdown efforts on Spring Break. He says it was clear then just how bad things have gotten, even with other rules in place.
“And, at that meeting, we heard a lot about how great things were, how the ordinances were working, and everybody had this great feeling,” recalled Solis, during Tuesday's meeting. “And, I was there saying, ‘no, it’s not that great. We’re having a lot of problems, a lot of arrests, a lot of rapes.’ That was Thursday. On Saturday, there was an emergency meeting because seven people had been shot. Later on, there were rapes. Then, we had other things that has made national news.”
And, he says he’s not sure local law enforcement are properly staffed to deal with this ongoing problem.
“We have a police force of 57 officers,” said Solis. “We have crowds on the week of about 80,000. Even when you bring in Bay County and other affiliates to help out and you have a police force during a shift of maybe 80 to 90 officers, you cannot control 80,000 to 100,000 drinking, rowdy kids. You just can’t do it. We don’t have any way to enforce anything, whether it’s personal consumption, or whether it’s coolers on the beach.”
Solis also cited comments by former New York Mayor, Rudy Guiliani.
“America’s most respected mayor in the United States…he was asked, ‘how do you straighten out Panama City Beach,’” recounted Solis. “He said, specifically, he would ban the alcohol on the beach, and then he would 300 to 400 police on the beach to enforce that, and he would have it done within three to four weeks. Guess what? We don’t have 300 to 400 police. We can ban the alcohol. This is Rudy Guiliani, who’s gotten a major city under control. He thinks he needs 300 to 400 officers to get the beach under control with no alcohol on the beach. So, think about that! How are we going to make that work if we have a police force of 57? Okay? It’s not going to work.”
But, Arthur Cullen disagrees. He represents Citizens United for Panama City Beach, or the hospitality industry. He’s worried they’ll lose business as new rules are considered. He urged caution as council members move forward. Cullen suggests the hospitality industry work with law enforcement to help in enforcement, like cracking down on binge drinking.
“Our plan would call for no coolers on the entire beach in the month of March,” said Cullen. “This is the Spring Break time. This takes away from the kid, who brings the 160 quart cooler and he puts 300 beers in it. He now becomes what we know of as a floating party. This does away with that. It’s easy for law enforcement to spot. They can see when there are coolers on the beach. They can easily address this situation and deal with it.”
He also suggests law enforcement increase the number of ATVs patrolling what he calls “hot zones” for bad Spring Breakers on the beach. But, Cullen admits that idea was met with some concern by Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman.
“I’ve spoken with the chief about this,” added Cullen. “The question is, ‘Arthur, what if we don’t have enough officers during this time period to put there during those time periods?’ We know that there’s a large group of young people that come in usually on Saturdays and Sundays, and Mondays is usually their first large day on the beach. If these patrols were upped during Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, basically that message would get out. The enforcement would be held strong, the hotels would inform the young people about this, and they would understand what not to bring to the beach.”
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen says the sheriff believes the proposed rules are “good for now.” She adds the sheriff cannot make a determination about whether they’re enforceable until the final rules are passed and put in place.
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