From the Sheriff: What’s your Perspective on Spring Break Along the Emerald Coast?

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Sheriff AshleyFor law enforcement, it’s all about safety and maintaining our family friendly atmosphere.

With tens of thousands of teens and young adults flooding in hoping for a good time, that means beefed up patrols on our beaches, in our neighborhoods and on our area roadways targeting law violations. It means more off-duty officers hired at local hotels and condos, and it means ongoing educational efforts to boost awareness on our zero tolerance for underage alcohol consumption.

The majority of the thousands of spring breakers who will head to our beaches the first week of March through the last week of April will enjoy our beaches, make fun memories, and head back to school with no big drama ruining their breach from the classroom.

However, each year, a percentage of high schoolers and college students will cross the line and end up with a booking photo. Last year our deputies arrested over 500 Spring Breakers for various violations, the majority involving underage possession of alcohol. Overall the “Zero Tolerance Spring Break Initiative” was a huge success, due to the fact there were no major crimes or injuries reported throughout the Spring Break period.

That is our primary goal. We know a lot of these students are members of the families of our future for tourism. We want them to be aware we will not tolerate the type of behaviors other areas have had to endure during Spring Break, but we do want them to have a good time and leave with great memories. We want them to come back again in the future. The key to avoiding a bad memory is to know that if you are 18 and over and caught with alcohol, you will be arrested. Our booking van will be standing by for those who don’t follow the rules. The consumption of alcohol leads to impaired judgment and sometimes impulsive, dangerous behaviors. Cracking down on consumption correlates to fewer problems ranging from sexual assaults to DUIs to balcony hopping.

Each year we distribute a letter welcoming students to the “World’s Most Beautiful Beaches.” We share with them our zero tolerance policy for drunkenness and other offensive behaviors. And we give them a list of state statutes, county ordinances, and city of Destin ordinances outlining everything from the prohibition of glass on the beach to control of open house parties.

For our businesses, Spring Break can bring a welcome surge in economic activity. It can also lead to the development of a love and appreciation for the area that lasts for decades and brings families back repeatedly on vacation. Our mission is to manage the crowds and create the safest atmosphere possible, so the cycle can be repeated in positive ways that benefit our community.

Our public safety efforts are enhanced through our partnerships with the Tourist Development Council, the City of Destin, other First Responders such as Okaloosa EMS and area Fire Departments.

During our Spring Break season, we encourage residents to practice patience and stay vigilant as the roadways, businesses and beaches become more crowded. We also encourage you to report any suspicious behavior, including impaired driving. Do not hesitate to call the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office at 850-651-7400. Our Beach and Marine Units will be on hand, as will extra deputies to handle the expected rise in calls for service and to monitor conditions and crowds to try to prevent accidents and ensure that our laws are being followed. We all play a vital role in keeping our community safe and we appreciate the support and assistance of our citizens!