City leaders to discuss additional spring break enforcement

MATT ALGARIN 315-4462 | @DestinlogMatt
City leaders in Destin will consider an item to enhance spring break law enforcement for the 2016 season.

It would come with an almost $75,000 price tag, but city leaders are set to debate spending additional funds for an increased law enforcement presence during spring break 2016.

Since the summer of 2015 City Manager Greg Kisela has been working with county officials and the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office to address concerns about the potential of rowdy spring break behaviors from the east migrating to Destin, due to increased enforcement in Panama City and Walton County.

"Last year we saw certain spring break behavior in our direction because of enhanced law enforcement in Bay and Walton counties," Kisela said. "Our initiative is a contingency plan that will provide additional law enforcement resources if we see unwanted spring break activities continue to move toward our community."

The cost of the enhanced service is expected to be $107,150. Of that, the city of Destin would be responsible for $74,900.

It was estimated by the sheriff's office that 70 percent of calls for service in 2015 were from the Destin area, which is why the city would pay the larger portion of the bill.

According to the plan from the sheriff's office, "the real possibily (sic) exists for Okaloosa County Beaches to realize a substantial increase in spring break related criminal activities."

Normal spring break staffing by the sheriff's office includes one beach patrol deputy in Destin and one on Okaloosa Island per day.

The beefed up plan would call for eight deputies and a supervisor, which includes two patrols on Okaloosa Island/beach, two patrols in Destin/beach, one patrol in Crystal Beach, one rover who will assist with transfers to mobile command post/processing area, two transportation deputies (transport to county jail), one supervisor/sergeant, and additional equipment such as transport vans and ATVs.

The command post would be staged at Pavillion "C" in Henderson Beach State Park and would two booking vans and deputies.

The additional resources would only be used if the city sees an increased problem with spring break visitors.

Councilman Jim Wood reviewed the proposal Wednesday afternoon and told The Log he liked what he saw so far, but still had a few questions he'd like to have answered Monday night.

"Whether its beach patrols or code enforcement, we need to step our game up," Wood said. "Let's put the plan in place, but hope we don't need it."

Although she supports the idea of increasing the presence of police and first responders during the city's peak season, Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell doesn't think Destin's taxpayers should foot the bill.

"(The) TDC (tourist development council) spends a generous amount of money to bring tourists here," she told The Log. "I think it's just as important that they provide for their safety while they are here and not place additional burden on our taxpayers."

Ramswell said other TDCs have used funds in a similar manner by defining spring break as an event, such as in Bay County where additional law enforcement is funded as event security.

"In 2015, they increased the amount of money spent on this special event security to $300,000," Ramswell said. "TDC funding can and has been used elsewhere preventing additional financial strain on our residents."

City leaders in Destin will discuss the proposal during their Jan. 4 City Council meeting at the City Hall Annex, 4100 Indian Bayou Trail. The meeting is open to the public and begins at 6 p.m.