As students from universities around the country flock to the Emerald Coast, sheriff’s offices in Okaloosa and Walton counties say they will continue to crack down on underage drinking during spring break.
Both agencies enforce a strict no tolerance policy for underage drinking.
If an underage person is caught with alcohol, it is a second-degree misdemeanor and a mandatory trip to the county jail, said Sgt. Brian Parkton with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office’s Special Operations division.
Okaloosa will have two booking vans strategically placed in Destin to take a larger number of people to the jail in Crestview.
Walton will have an Incident Command Bus stationed near the Whale’s Tale at Seascape to take people to the jail in DeFuniak Springs.
Both offices have added patrols to the beaches. Walton County has offered off-duty and extra-duty shifts to deputies, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Corey Dobdridnia said.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office will increase patrols on Okaloosa Island and in Destin, Parkton said. He said there will be a total of six spring break beach patrol deputies.
The number of spring break-related arrests in Walton County was in the 300s in 2019, which was much lower than previous years, Dobridnia said.
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Last year, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office had 677 arrests, of which 650 were for underage drinking, an increase from 2018.
While Dodridnia said she will not post student arrests on social media, she plans to track the number of arrests by university. She said in years past, when the schools see those reports, they are more likely to take action.
Safety is the main priority for both sheriff’s offices.
“We just want them to be safe and treat our home like their home,” Dobridnia said.
Parkton said the Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office has handed out literature to condos and hotels about safety protocols on the beach.
Nicole Wagner, spokeswoman for Emerald Coast Crime Stoppers, said the Sheriff’s Office wants spring breakers to be aware of the beach warning flags. She said it is important that students know to stay out of the water when red flags are flying.
“We want them to come here and have fun, but we also want them to be safe,” Wagner said.
Spring break festivities started Saturday and will continue until mid-April.