“By enforcing these laws, we’re keeping everybody within boundaries and that typically slows down other possible crimes."
MIRAMAR BEACH — Deputies Ryan Boschert and Tyler Loy walked through the parking lot of a condo complex off Scenic Highway 98 on an unseasonably chilly Tuesday night, trying to find a condo unit that was the subject of an earlier noise complaint call.
The call, which came in just past 10 p.m., was from a resident who said the students in the condo were exceeding the noise rules of the complex.
In the dark and on foot, the deputies followed the music to a second-floor unit, where they could clearly see through open blinds a group of girls dancing in the living room and could hear the music blaring from at least 50 yards away.
“That’s got to be it,” Loy said.
In order to get a better grip on underage drinking, noise ordinances and house parties this year, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office created a new “House Party Task Force” to specifically address concerns of gatherings in residential neighborhoods. Areas like Frangista Beach along Scenic Highway 98 and Seaside on County Road 30A are the hot spots for the task force, according to the deputies.
“There are rules that have to be followed,” Boschert said. “By enforcing these laws, we’re keeping everybody within boundaries and that typically slows down other possible crimes. When people drink a lot, fights can occur ... it’s all about keeping people in line.”
Spring break patrols
It was just another Tuesday night of spring break in Miramar Beach. Over a raucous five-week period, deputies from the Walton County Sheriff’s Office are dispatched to hundreds of noise complaints, house parties and underage drinking incidents from Crystal Beach to County Road 30A.
The task can be challenging, Boschert said, especially since deputies also have to respond to “normal,” non-spring break related calls on top of everything else. But, as he approached his first noise complaint call of the night, he said he generally tries to be understanding with the students he encounters.
“Their attitude is going to dictate this whole thing,” Boschert said when asked if he was going to look for cause to arrest the students, or simply issue them a warning for their loud music. “The big thing is just to educate them, give them a chance and then go from there.”
The deputies knocked on the door and the students allowed them to enter the condo. The music had been turned off and liquor bottles and beer cases were strewn throughout the living room and kitchen.
The eight students said they were from Louisville, Kentucky. After asking them about an upcoming college basketball game and making jokes about dancing, Boschert got serious.
“We want you guys to have a good time,” he said. “We want you guys to party and have fun. But, here’s the deal. You’ve got people who live here full-time ... you’ve got to be respectful of them. We’re not going to check IDs tonight. We’ll give you one warning now, but don’t make us come back.”
After telling the deputies they were all 21 years old and promising they would turn the music down, Boschert and Loy left the condo and headed out to their next call.
“When you clock out, you know where to come back,” one of the students joked as the deputies left the condo. “We’ll give you a beer.”
House party task force created
Boschert said most of the task force's interactions with spring break students are positive. If the students are respectful, he usually tries to cut them a break and only uses the handcuffs as a last resort.
“Every deputy handles things differently,” Boschert said. “I like to approach people nicely, be calm and laid back. At the end of the day, we’re not here to be the fun police. You can have a lot of fun, but at the same time you’ve got to follow the rules.”
The house party task force was created in response to numerous incidents in previous years, including a March 2017 house party where more than two dozen young people, half of whom were under the age of 18, were busted for underage drinking at a rental home on Tang O Mar Drive. Two 44-year-old adults from Tennessee were present at the home and charged with several counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Just a few weeks prior to that bust, deputies broke up two separate house and condo parties where dozens of underage students were found to be in possession of alcohol and violating local noise ordinances.
This year, WCSO hopes to use the task force to keep the house parties from getting out of control again, mostly by ramping up their presence in the most highly affected neighborhoods.
On Tuesday night, after responding to the noise complaint at the condo, Boschert and Loy received another call about a house on Los Angeles Street, in the Frangista Beach neighborhood.
When they arrived, deputies could hear music blaring from the home and could see two males through windows on the top floor arranging red cups on a table.
“Looks like they’re about to start a game of beer pong,” Loy noted.
As soon as the deputies knocked on the door, the music stopped and a group of around 15 students decked out in glow necklaces and Hawaiian leis opened the door. Still holding red cups filled with adult beverages, the students stared wide-eyed at the two deputies.
“We were told we could play the music as loud as we wanted,” one of the girls told the deputies, when asked if they knew they were violating the noise ordinance.
The deputies explained that no, they couldn’t play their music as loud as they wanted, and told them to keep it down. The deputies said they wouldn’t be checking IDs this time around, but ordered them to keep the music down and said if they had to return the students could be in “big trouble.”
During a four-hour period Tuesday night, Boschert and Loy responded to three noise complaints and made zero arrests.
Overall, Boschert said, the safety of everyone visiting and living was their number one concern.
“As a deputy, you have discretion for how you want to handle situations,” he said. “And a lot of dealing with spring break is that everybody has been that age, and you don’t want to ruin the fun, but you just want to make sure that everybody is safe.”