City leaders agree to beef up law enforcement

Staff Reporter
The Destin Log

The vote wasn't unanimous, but city leaders agreed to spend almost $75,000 to fund additional law enforcement during spring break.

With the 5-2 approval, the sheriff's office will now have the ability to use additional personnel on beaches in Okaloosa County. Councilors Prebble Ramswell and Rodney Braden voted against the measure.

"The plan at this point is business as usual," Capt. Ted Pecot from the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office told city leaders during Monday night's Destin City Council meeting. "This contingency plan allows us, if we hit that trigger point and we are losing control out there, we can make physical arrests and take them to jail."

Pecot said Okaloosa County ranked third out of 67 counties in the state for underage drinking arrests during the previous spring break season. That was only behind Bay and Walton counties.

"The fear is because of the activity they've had in Bay County and Walton County, and the heavy-handed punishment they've used it's migrating our direction," Pecot said. Without bringing in overtime personnel, we'd be overwhelmed."

Pecot added that the plan is actually pretty bare bones and on any given day in Walton County during spring break 30 deputies would be working, while this plan calls for eight.

And while there was no doubts about the need for the additional law enforcement presence, not everyone was keen on the idea of the city's taxpayers footing the bill.

Councilman Tuffy Dixon is the city's representative to the Tourist Development Council and said the TDC should write the check, not the city.

"I'm certainly willing to go to the TDC meeting and make the motion that we consider spring break a special event and do everything I can to push forward a funding request from the sheriff to the TDC," he said.

For her part, Councilwoman Ramswell said the precedent has already been set locally to use TDC funds for additional spring break enforcement.

"Not only is it possible, but Bay County has been doing it since 2013," she said. "I just don't think we need to burden our taxpayers in Destin more."

With a second motion, city leaders unanimously agreed to pursue reimbursement for the through the TDC, as well as scheduling a presentation to discuss the topic further. Others in the audience suggested the city seek a different split in total cost, based on the amount of bed tax revenue generated in Destin.

The city will pay for 70 percent of the funding, while the county will be responsible for the other 30 percent. County Commissioners  approved the interlocal agreement between the county, city of Destin and sheriff's office at their Tuesday meeting.