City, law enforcement preparing for spring break

Maddie Rowley and Annie Blanks

Last month, Destin was named the second most popular spring break destination in Florida according to travel website HomeToGo, coming in second only to Panama City Beach.

Now, the city of Destin is getting ready to host another round of beer-guzzling coeds in March.  

Sgt. Jason Fulghum, head of spring break operations for the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, said his department is "more than prepared" to handle this year’s influx of visitors, and will enforce the law in similar ways as the past two years.

"We’re going to proceed like we did in 2016 and 2017," Fulghum said. "There will be 100 percent arrests for adults in possession of alcohol under the age of 21, processed on the beach or at the booking command post that we’ll have set up, and they will be transported from there straight to the Okaloosa County Jail."

Last year, OCSO deputies made 508 arrests during spring break, 484 of which were for underage alcohol possession. The Crystal Beach area of Destin saw the most arrests of college students, while the Back Porch and Restaurant Row area of Destin saw the most high school student arrests.

With an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 visitors expected by city officials this year, Fulghum said most of the visitors are law-abiding and don’t cause any problems for law enforcement.

"The vast number of people that we get coming here for spring break are not violating the law, and we enjoy the people coming here who do so lawfully," Fulghum said. "Unfortunately, there’s always an element that comes that want to violate the law and we have to deal with that accordingly."

The Sheriff’s Office is expected to have five overtime deputies every day between March 5 and April 6 in addition to their normal force, Fulghum said. The Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council is footing the full $76,286 bill.

The city of Destin did not allot money in their 2018 budget for spring break law enforcement expenses.

During a meeting at the Destin Community Center on Wednesday night, Sheriff's Office officials met with homeowners, motel staff, and condominium complex owners to talk about their strategy for spring break. Beach Patrol Deputies Dustan Rice and Daniel Williams discussed continuing the zero tolerance policy for underage drinkers, trespassing laws and the rights of private property owners.

"Since we've started the zero tolerance policy three years ago, we haven't had any sexual battery arrests during the period of spring break," Fulghum told the crowd.

Rental officials who went to the meeting said it was still too soon to tell occupancy numbers for this year’s spring break as people were still calling in to make reservations.

"For us, it’s still a little early to tell if it’s going to be a busy spring break," said Shane Browning with ResortQuest. "We’ve started getting some calls but we’ll get more towards the end of the month."

Candi Cook, general manager of Motel 6 in Destin, said she’s been getting "a ton" of spring break calls.

"We’re not nervous," she said. "Last year we were the only Motel 6 that didn’t have any issues, but we’re being proactive. We’re going to have someone on site at all times."

Law enforcement officials are expecting the "official" spring break season to run from March 5 to April 6 this year, based on dates from the colleges and high schools who have visited the area the most in the past, but lawmen are prepared for spring breakers to be in the area throughout all of March and most of April. The second and last week of March are expected to see the most college visitors.

Spring Break 2017 Facts

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office made 508 arrests during Spring Break 2017, up from 393 in 2016. The vast majority of the arrests were for underage possession of alcohol but there also were 22 narcotics arrests, one open house party arrest, two DUI’s, and two arrests for providing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

Leading Colleges for Arrests

1. LSU-34

2. Louisiana-Lafayette-23

3. Alabama-23

Leading High Schools for Arrests

1. Saint Xavier High School, Ky.-10

1. West Forsyth High School, Ga.-10

3. Saint Paul’s School, La.-7

NOTE: 91 juveniles between the ages of 13 and 17 were issued notices to appear before a judge.