"Destin is cleaner than Panama City Beach, and to be honest, the laws are much stricter there."
DESTIN — Sergeant Jason Fulghum’s eyes darted from right to left.
"When I drive past, I always look to see if they act nervous or if they tuck their cups into their arms," Fulghum said.
Fulghum is in charge of this year’s spring break operations for the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. He supervises four deputies who patrol the beach on four wheelers and one deputy who transports people to the county jail in Crestview.
Spring breakers slowly made their way to the beach in groups, trickling out of their rental homes in Crystal Beach at around 1 p.m. with bags packed and towels in hand.
"It’s still early," Fulghum said.
Eyes followed his patrol car down the residential streets, causing several noticeable reactions; namely over-the-shoulder looks, general fidgeting and palpable anxiety.
Three girls holding a Delta Delta Delta sorority flag jumped up and down to music on the balcony of a home off Scenic Highway 98. When Fulghum crawled by, they stopped, glancing to make sure he continued on past the home.
Fulghum turned down a residential street. A group of spring breakers walked toward the beach carrying insulated tumblers and a large, blow-up monkey.
He whipped the patrol car around in a tight U-turn.
"That girl tried to hide her cup behind her legs when she saw me," Fulghum said. He stopped the car and got out in one swift motion.
He approached the group and asked them their ages.
"Eighteen, eighteen, nineteen," they continued down the line; all underage.
"Everyone, have a seat," said Fulghum, as he clutched his radio to call for a transport bus. He began sniffing each cup and emptying the contents onto the ground.
The group sat down and answered Fulghum’s questions.
"Where are you all staying?"
"Just down the street, sir," said Rachel Haigwood, who became the spokesperson for the group.
When Fulghum broke the news that they were under arrest for underage drinking, the mood shifted.
Three of the five girls in the group started crying and calling relatives, and the only male, 19-year-old Landon Breckenridge, put his head in his hands.
"My mom is going to pull me out of Auburn. I know it," said one of the girls.
Haigwood consoled her friend.
"It's alright; we're going to figure this out. It was a stupid decision, so stupid," she said, tearing up.
Fulghum wrote down all of their information as they waited for the transport bus to arrive.
Finally, a booking officer pulled up to the curb and got out of the white van, pulling on blue latex gloves.
"Who's first?" he said, unraveling hand and foot shackles.
All six of the students were searched, put in connecting handcuffs and footcuffs, and helped into the back of the caged van.
The blow-up monkey sat in the passenger's seat.
"I have an 18-year-old daughter myself," Fulghum said. "It's hard, but at the same time, this is better than coming back later and learning that one of them suffered from alcohol poisoning or was the victim of sexual assault."
Since the start of the zero-tolerance policy three years ago, the Sheriff's Office hasn't arrested any spring breakers for sexual battery, and the policy has reduced the number of alcohol poisonings.
"In the past we've had problems with kids falling off of balconies, drowning and fights, and in the past we were just writing a 'Notice to Appear' where they could pay a fine amount or go to court," Fulghum said. "That became ineffective."
The 100 percent underage drinking arrest policy and the presence of the beach patrol doesn't seem to deter others from enjoying their college spring break in Destin. Music blares from homes and fraternity brothers clutch Bud Lights walking back from the beach.
"Destin is cleaner than Panama City Beach, and to be honest, the laws are much stricter there," said Auburn student Peyton Gregg. "If you're 21 here, you can drink legally on the beach here in Destin. It's awesome."
Many of the big Southeastern Conference schools spent their spring break in Destin this past week, including Alabama, Auburn, University of Mississippi, and the University of Georgia.
"We came here over other places because everyone in the SEC comes here for spring break," said Ole Miss student Liza Goodson.
So far, steady streams of underage drinking arrests occur daily down at the Destin beaches.
"It really comes down to trying to protect these high school and college kids," Fulghum said.