Lawmen patrolling area beaches took a deep breath Monday morning as the last of the college students went back to school, clearing crowds that had taken over five weeks ago.
“We’re looking forward to a lull before the summer,” said Capt. Michael Howell with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office special operations division. “We seemed to have much more people in a shorter period of time.”
Walton County beaches were inundated with spring breakers, who congregated in large groups to party.
Take a final look at a spring break photo gallery. >>
Howell said the shores usually patrolled by one division were assisted by multiple divisions of the Sheriff’s Office as well as other law enforcement agencies, putting about 30 officials at a time on spring break duty.
Since the first weekend of March, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office has made 1,084 arrests in relation to spring breakers and issued 1,035 citations to students for underage drinking.
Last year, deputies issued a total of 667 underage drinking citations.
“We had a definite increase in calls for service,” Howell said. “We think it’s because of the way the calendar fell this year. There was a more condensed spring break period, a smaller time frame and more people at the same time.”
Howell estimated some weeks had about 5,000 students in just one section of the beach near Whale’s Tail restaurant.
According to Lt. Charlie Nix with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, not nearly as many students flocked to Okaloosa’s beaches.
He said officials believe some students heard about the crowds in Walton County and made the trek over to join them. Nix added that cool weather also sent the larger packs of students away to other areas of the county.
“They were here but it was sporadic,” Nix said. “We had our groups out there, but the weather kept them inside. The groups that were out there were pretty good.”
In the past five weeks, Okaloosa County deputies arrested 337 people under 21 and issued 220 notices to appear for underage drinking.
“We’re pretty much on par from last year,” Nix said. “It’s the same every year, although they are getting a little wiser on how they do it.”
Nix said students would use water bottles and 32-ounce jugs to disguise their alcoholic beverages, but the four full-time deputies and four auxiliary volunteers working the beaches were able to distinguish between water and other beverages.
Nix said plans for next year will remain similar to the actions taken this year. He said he suspects crowds from Walton County will one day trickle over, but he said deputies will be prepared when that time comes.
Maj. A.J. Smith with Walton County Sheriff’s Office said he plans to meet with Sheriff’s Office supervisors to discuss the pros and cons of this year’s spring break.
“We’ll talk about what the overall spring break and their take on what went on,” Smith said. “I want to know what was successful, what wasn't successful. We see that out of this there will be some new ideas for next year.”