Spring break is only a few weeks away and as the city of Destin prepares for the influx of students and families, it also hopes to make code enforcement an easier and calmer experience.
“We are working on rebuilding our community relations,” said Code Compliance Manager Joey Forgione. “We’re out here to get compliance through education. If we gotta gain compliance by other means, citations or notice of violation, so be it, but I want to just get the education out there.”
During the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office's annual spring break operations overview meeting at the Destin Community Center on Monday, Forgione encouraged beach vendors and property managers/owners to be nice to the public and to “use your brain” when setting up to avoid a violation.
Several times during the meeting, Forgione referenced an incident that took place last year in which a beach vendor put out fish and shrimp around spring breakers to get them to leave that area.
“Don’t put fish around them, don’t put shrimp around them … just tell them to leave nicely if you have to,” Forgione said. “We just want to work together so it’s safe, calm and everyone has a good season.”
According to the Destin city code, beach chair vendors must set up their equipment no less than 20 feet from the water’s edge, they can only be on “private beach” and they’re not allowed to restrict the public’s access to the beach in front of their chairs.
“We want everyone to have a good time … but safety is paramount because we want to protect the people, not only the visitors, but our residents too,” said Destin Public Information Manager Catherine Card. “I think that having meetings like this and seeing that partnership between the vendors, between the Sheriff’s Office and between the city of Destin is key to making sure everybody is a success.”
Deputy Dustin Rice, who led the presentation, asked beach service employees to make sure they also leave an open corridor for beach safety personnel by not roping off sections of the beach or setting up too close to the water line.
During spring break, eight deputies and supervisors are assigned to patrol the beaches and heightened activity areas, such as neighborhoods, during the season. But many city and country ordinances will not be enforced by the OCSO if it’s on private property, unless an off-duty deputy has been hired for security.
“The enforcement of those codes and ordinances is left to the property management,” Rice said.
Rice said the zero-tolerance underage drinking policy will remain in effect and those who violate that policy can expect to be arrested.
“Those who are 18, 19 and 20 will be arrested and booked into the county jail, where they can post bail,” Rice said. “Notices to appear before a judge will be issued to those who are 17 and younger.”
In 2018, 426 underage drinking arrests were made, which was 58 less than 2017. According to Rice, the top colleges for arrests by the OCSO in 2018 were Louisiana State University and University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Since the OCSO increased the local law enforcement’s presence on the beach and enacted the zero-tolerance police in 2016, Rice said there have been zero spring break related deaths and no drownings have been attributed to spring breakers.