It's 1 p.m. Tuesday and there have been no arrests yet at Whale's
"The cold weather has kept the breakers off the beach," said Lt. Keith Chamblee of the Walton County Sheriff's Office.
But just 30 minutes later, it seems he has spoken too soon. While deputies sit underneath a canopy, they get a call that an officer on bike has arrested a breaker. Two officers immediately get up and head over to pick up the breaker in a van.
It was 2009 that the spring break crowds started to fill up condos and beach houses in South Walton. Last year, local officials and the WCSO had declared they had had enough and began aggressively arresting underage drinkers. Deputies heavily patrolled the beaches issuing more than 1,000 arrests for the spring break season and even famously broke up a large house party sending 32 co-eds to jail in DeFuniak Springs.
This year, however, is different.
"The NTAs [Notices to Appear] were not getting their attention as they should have been," Chamblee said.
Instead of just handing out NTAs to offending visitors, WCSO is now offering a free ride to jail in DeFuniak Springs with all arrests.
"We're trying to do as many physical arrests as possible," Chamblee said.
By 2 p.m. Tuesday, officers are busy with several sandy-feet breakers. At the compound WCSO set up across from the Whale's Tail restaurant, those arrested are brought over in handcuffs to give their personal information. Detention deputies then drive the breakers in a non-descript white van sans handcuffs to the jail in DeFuniak Springs. Those looking to pick up their arrested friends are told to expect the entire process to take about five hours.
"Either they make bond or they have to appear in court," explained Ann Petty, one of the detention deputies. "The fine for liquor possession by a person under 21 is $250. After the $20 booking fee and another $2 per day spent in jail, they end up paying a little more. We've had a few with felony charges, like one who had possession of narcotics, who have to stay and see the judge."
The strict punishment has come as a surprise to breakers, Chamblee said.
"We had breakers tell us they'd been partying in
There are about 30 officers patrolling the area surrounding the Whale's Tail beach from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on foot, bike, car, truck and even ATVs in the sand.
"We're looking for clues, going through the crowds and seeing their reactions," said Deputy Jeff McIntosh, who is out of uniform and helping fill out paperwork at the compound recovering from knee surgery.
McIntosh has been working beach patrol with the WCSO for 8 and a half years and knows all of the signs to look for, he said.
"Those that drop their cups quickly, we'll grab whatever they dropped to check if it's alcohol," he said. "We're looking for reactions basically."
Between the male and female breakers, Chamblee noted that mostly males have been more calm about their arrest.
"They know they got caught doing something illegal," he said simply.
Females, on the other hand, have more of a reputation for being upset. As Chamblee talks, a female breaker with #TO4TB — a popular acronym in social media — written in black sharpie down her arm wipes away tears.
"Some are even getting a little ugly," Chamblee said. "We had one young lady try to run away from an officer who ended up twisting a knee. She was charged for resisting arrest, with a $5,000 bond."
This week has been pretty busy with 259 spring break-related arrests (this includes NTAs) as of press time; 52 of those alone from Tuesday. By aggressively arresting, Chamblee said he is hoping to send a strong message to visiting minors.
"We've got breakers who are way over consumption," he said. "They don't realize how dangerous it is. We saw one girl who was so intoxicated she couldn't stand up. Deputies brought her over here and she knew her name, but she didn't know where she was from or where she was staying."
"Hopefully kids will cut out the foolishness and come to the beach to have fun. Play in the water. Drink a Coke," Chamblee added. "Their welfare — their safety is our biggest concern."