Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
admin

PCB eyes extending Spring Break alcohol ban into April

Recommended Posts

4-22-2018 4-00-18 PM.png

Law enforcement officials said Spring Break crime is down across the board, but crowds surged after March 31.

PANAMA CITY BEACH — With Spring Break 2018 in the rearview, law enforcement already is looking ahead to next year in light of an emerging trend of college students shifting their annual vacation to coincide with the lift of Panama City Beach’s alcohol ban, officials said.

The Panama City Beach Police Department (PCBPD) and Bay County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) recently released their numbers on arrests and the demand on officers from March 1 to April 16, the period law enforcement considers the Spring Break season. Many of the crime figures held steady from previous years, but both agencies saw fewer violent crimes and considerably fewer firearms on the streets.

Both PCBPD Chief Drew Whitman and Sheriff Tommy Ford said their officers saw more families and experienced a calmer atmosphere on the beach during this year’s March alcohol ban. But as the calendar flipped to April and the alcohol ban lifted, a more substantial surge of visitors descended on the Beach than officers expected.

Whitman said his officers were hearing explicitly from students — particularly those from a Louisiana college — that they had petitioned to have their Spring Break moved to April to avoid the alcohol ban.

“A lot of schools are pushing their breaks back,” Whitman said. “We were prepared for a large first week of April. We knew it was coming. It was just a shock.”

Whitman said the students didn’t cause a significant surge in crime or exhaust PCBPD’s available resources. He will be bringing the observation before the Beach Council, though, at a future hearing for their consideration, Whitman said.

Mayor Mike Thomas has already said he is leaning toward extending the ban.

Spring Break by the numbers

Figures are provided by the Panama City Beach Police Department and Bay County Sheriff’s Office for the six weeks of Spring Break 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018:

• Firearms confiscated: 93, 20, 46, 26

• Drug arrests: 507, 256, 210, 200

• PCBPD calls for service: 13,301, 8,792, 11,755, 10,859

• BCSO calls for service: 6,138, 4,482, 5,176, 5,268

• Total arrests: 2,423, 1,222, 1,163, 1,200

• Beach alcohol arrests: N/A*, 262, 176, 157

• PCBPD DUI arrests: 19, 32, 43, 16

* Law went into effect in 2016

“We didn’t have rules in effect, and people came down and misbehaved a little,” he said. ”[The former Spring Break] crept back in since a lot of places like Atlanta don’t have Spring Break until around early April or Easter.”

Ford said he heard about schools shifting their breaks but did not have first-hand evidence of that. He said he was pleased with this year’s Spring Break, though, and simply described it as “manageable.”

“Before, it was dangerous,” Ford said. “But the steps we took to curb those dangerous aspects of Spring Break have been successful.”

Guns, violent crimes

While Spring Break 2017 was mired by gunplay — with weekly shootings, resulting in two deaths and more than a dozen arrests — only one armed robbery stood out this year. Six Birmingham, Ala., males were arrested April 2 after a woman was held up at gunpoint near a motel in Panama City Beach for her purse. Each was charged with varying degrees of culpability in the armed robbery, and the case is still pending.

Overall, the number of guns recovered by law enforcement during Spring Break has fluctuated since a steep drop immediately after the alcohol ban, which was written into law in 2016. In the last year of unfettered alcohol consumption on the beach, officers confiscated 93 firearms. In 2016, that number steeply dropped to 20, and then in 2017 the two agencies combined took 46 guns off the streets. This year, officers saw another drop as PCBPD and BCSO collected a combined 26 firearms, according to agency stats.

Ford said the results are indicative of the Beach “reclaiming its reputation.”

“The reputation we developed threatened visitation every other month of the year,” he said. “The decisions we’ve made have helped reclaim our reputation.”

According to figures released by PCBPD and BCSO, arrests for violent crimes mostly held steady this year compared to Spring Break 2017 despite the lack of gunplay. Whitman said crime is generally random and can spike because of economic influences or weather, which essentially influence the number of people traveling to the Beach. But the trend since adopting alcohol ban has been a decrease and stabilization of major crimes.

Many aspects of crime remained the same compared to figures from last year, including drug arrests, which dropped sharply immediately after the implementation of the alcohol ban. Officers arrested a combined total of 507 people from drug-related offenses in 2015 and since have seen that number cut almost in half each year.

Total arrests have seen a similar trend between the agencies. In the days before the beach alcohol ban, arrests totaled 2,423 in 2015. This year that number was at 1,200 total arrests, only slightly varied from the previous two years.

Alcohol arrests

One significant shift from 2017 to 2018 was that arrests over alcohol on the beach sand saw a sharp uptick for PCBPD. Across the county, arrests for alcohol possession and consumption decreased — from 176 in March 2017 to 157 in 2018. However, PCBPD reported taking on the lion’s share this year with 127 arrests compared to BCSO’s 30 arrests.

Whitman attributed the sharp distinction in the numbers to the lack of violent crimes freeing up officers to patrol more for minor infractions.

“We were able to be more proactive,” Whitman said. “Major crimes take up more time. And when you prevent the big things, the little things go up.”

Ford had a similar take on the numbers. He said because there were fewer violent crimes on the beach, his officers spent less time providing aid in the high-volume areas of PCBPD’s jurisdiction.

“Ground zero for Spring Break is mostly within the Beach’s city limits,” Ford said. “Now things are starting to normalize, we are still working with them, but we focused more on the county’s jurisdiction.”

Both PCBPD and BCSO are already digesting the crime figures and analyzing trend from this year in preparation for next year’s Spring Break. Seeing what he interprets as stabilization, Ford said the message going forward is to “stay the course” in order to not reverse the groundwork laid by the Spring Break laws.

“What we’re doing has been effective,” he added. “This could easily go back the other way if we are not vigilant.”

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×