MIRAMAR BEACH — Following the third year in a row of zero-tolerance policies for underage drinking, the Okaloosa and Walton County sheriff’s offices made significantly fewer arrests this spring break than in years past.
In Walton County, deputies made 299 spring break-related arrests during a five-week break period, mostly for underage drinking. That’s less than half of the 681 arrests made in 2017 and slightly less than the 338 made in 2016.
Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputies made 444 arrests, down from 508 in 2017 but up from 393 in 2016.
Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said he didn’t believe the zero-tolerance policy was having a “chilling effect’ on spring breakers or discouraging them from visiting the area for fear of being arrested, citing a 12 percent increase in tourism in 2018.
Rather, he believed “the primary reason (for the decrease in arrests) is our consistent messaging.
“We have set the tone for the last five years about how we wanted to do things, and just by following through and talking to people who were arrested, they were all aware of (the zero-tolerance policy),” Adkinson said.
He added that while the number of overall arrests has decreased, the number of high school students arrested increased by almost 15 percent.
He also said he suspected a “more adult, more mature visitor profile” visited the area this year, as opposed to college-aged spring breakers.
Sgt. Jason Fulghum, head of spring break operations for the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, told the Daily News last week he believed the reason for the decrease in arrests this year had to do with weather and time.
“We had more bad weather days this year than we did last year, not so much because of rain but because of the cold that was keeping them off the beach and up in their rental houses,” Fulghum said. “Plus, last year’s spring break was seven weeks and this year’s was five weeks, so obviously more time is going to equal more arrests.”
Okaloosa sheriff's deputies broke up two house parties this year in Destin involving high school students, leading to the arrest of a Kentucky man and a Louisiana man—both chaperones—for house party violations.