The Walton County Sheriff's Office wants residents to know they are ready for spring break, and they want spring breakers to know they are going to be “aggressive.”
Deputies addressed issues such as parking, noise, burglary, under-age drinking, intoxication, and their plans to respond at a town-hall style meeting Tuesday morning at the Sheriff's Sub Station in South Walton.
Intoxication is the chief problem associated with spring break, which can lead to dangerous behavior and drunk driving, said Lt. Robert Gray.
Last year, deputies wrote 1098 Notice to Appears, primarily for underage drinking. Gray said this year, they want spring breakers to know "we're going to take you to jail."
"We're going to take an aggressive stance," he said. "We don't want another Panama City. Spring break started in Daytona and they tore it up; then they came to Panama City."
In addition to intoxication, Gray said they will also be cracking down on under-age use of tobacco, marijuana, fireworks, and bonfires and dogs on the beach.
"We are going to take an aggressive stance on everything," he said.
A deputy will be placed in Seascape again, a place that has become a spring break hotspot, according to Gray.
"We will be focusing on the west end and the Whale's Tail," he said. "That's where they like to go. Sometimes we write 160 citations a day."
And if arrests are made, those being arrested can look forward to seeing a judge who will also be taking an aggressive stance against underage drinking.
"Word will get out that we are not going to put up with their nonsense," said Lt. Keith Chamblee, who is commander over the west end.
Traffic and parking have also become perpetual problems.
During spring break deputies will be posted at the intersection of U.S. Highways 331S and 98 to help with traffic flow. In order to do this, overtime is being offered to all deputies, said Gray.
"We get thousands of calls about traffic at that intersection," he said.
Last year, deputies wrote 125-150 parking citations. Gray said they do not tow unless the car is causing safety issues.
Residents and visitors alike should also be aware that dogs on the beach are not allowed without a permit and without being on a leash. Permits are issued to dogs belonging to residents only and those dogs are allowed on the beach only during certain hours.
Visitors should also be aware that fireworks are illegal in Florida and bonfires are allowed only by permit.
Off-duty deputies are available for hire at a base rate of $25 per hour. The county has 97 deputies.
If a citizen sees something that is a threat to life or property, they are encouraged to 911. All other calls should go to either 892-8111 or 267-2000.
WHO’S HERE THIS WEEK
This list, compiled by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, includes schools whose students are known to frequent the area during spring break. Starting March 1, expect to see coeds from Kennesaw State University, Ga.; University of Florida; Vanderbilt University, Tenn; Rice University, Texas; Florida Institute of Technology; Columbus State University, Ga.; University of Central Florida; Loyola University, Ill.; and University of South Alabama.
SPRING BREAK BURGLARS?
Robert Gray, with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, talked about the Hide-Lock-Take program and said that if you practice hiding your valuables from plain view, lock your doors, and take precaution, there is a high probability you won't be a victim of a burglary.
"We're a safe community, so don't give an opportunity to criminals," he said. "Unlocked cars are responsible for 80 percent of car thefts."
In homes and condos, TVs are hot as always, he said. To aid in the recovery of stolen TVs, Gray recommends recording the serial numbers of your TVs. That number will be put into a database and there will a greater chance of recovery the property if it is stolen.
"When renting out your property, try to read your guests' body language and don't rent to someone who seems shady," he said. "And change your codes frequently. Your guests will give out your code to their friends."