After 1,084 arrests and countless beer cans left on the beach, Walton County can start to see some normalcy with spring break now in the past.

As promised in a late February town hall meeting, officials in Walton County were going to be relentless towards out-of-hand breakers. They wanted to send a message to co-eds that underage drinking, loud, crowded parties and overall disrespect was not going to be tolerated. With a record breaking arrest count, they made that message clear.

"I am very proud of our Sheriff's department and what they have done with very limited man power and funds," said Commissioner Sara Comander.  

"I think the overall picture of spring break was improved over last year," added Commissioner Cindy Meadows. "No doubt the presence of more deputies along the beaches made a positive difference."

The Sun has seen letters and comments from readers and residents congratulating WCSO for their efforts, including a March 11 bust that sent 32 underage drinkers to the county jail.

"Their dedicated service provided a quality of life to those of us who are permanent residents and who are routinely subjected (during spring break) to the type of behavior that resulted in the arrest of 32 young people at an “open house party” in our neighborhood during this year’s spring break," read a letter to The Sun from Miramar Beach residents Linda and Stephen Hodges.

Aside from the arrests, some residents did have concerns about issues such as trash and the responsibilities of property owners.

"Rental management companies are doing a poor job screening spring break renters, jeopardizing both communities and homes, and excepting little or no responsibility/liability," said Miramar Beach resident, Mark Walker on The Sun's Facebook page.

Comander agreed and said those renting to underage students and or overbooking houses should be held accountable.

"One way is through occupational licenses," she said.

For businesses, 2013 spring break was a success. There were large crowds, but they were under control.

"The crowds were insane, but that usually happens when Easter is early. It's like compressing eight weeks into four or five," said Grant Hill, manager of Bud & Alley's Restaurant in Seaside.

Bud & Alley's employed their own deputy to work an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift to oversee the breakers and prevent property damage. Hill credits his staff and extra help from WCSO for making this spring break one of the "easiest, smoothest spring breaks" he's seen in 12 years.

"It was wonderful," he said. "Let's do it all again."

Over at Whale's Tail and Pompano Joe's is where most of the spring break action happens. However, Pompano Joe's general manager, Roy Moore said the crowds were quieter. In the past, Moore said, a big issue the restaurant faced was intoxicated breakers walking up from the beach and causing disturbances. With the sheriff's office patrolling the sand, restaurant workers could focus more on their customers and less time trying to wrangle rowdy visitors.

"The sheriff's office did an exceptional job," Moore said. "If only there was better weather, but you've got to deal with what you get."

Commissioner Cindy Meadows said she did receive complaints on traffic and parking issues. She also noted there was an inordinate amount of debris left on the beach, which led the Tourist Development Council (TDC) to do additional beach clean-ups. The trash even instigated a grassroots clean-up campaign from Miramar Beach resident, Madra McDonald. Meadows is asking residents to send her their comments and attend the next few town hall meetings to offer their thoughts on this year's spring break.

Before spring break 2014, Comander said she would like to have a workshop including all spring break-involved agencies.

"I don't know what to expect next year, but we can be prepared for any event if we work together," she said.

"From the BCC and TDC side I also think we faced the issues and did a good job of handling the trash and other issues," Comander added. "Was it perfect? No. And I know we can plan better for next year, but as humans, I think we did the best job under the circumstances."



The Breakdown on Breakers

Walton County Sheriff's Office were certainly busy in the 2013 spring break season. Officers were on the scene at the beach and at crowded house parties. The result was more than 1,000 arrests. Here's a break down on arrests by the week:

Week One: 127

Week Two: 489

Week Three: 139

Week Four: 205

Week Five: 124



Operation Dry Spring: A Success

Florida Sheriffs Association and local sheriff's representing Okaloosa, Walton, Bay and Escambia County presented the results on their five-week program, Operation Dry Spring, held from March 4 to April 7. Efforts from 35 Sheriff's offices across the state of Florida contributed to the success. In the end, results yielded more than 5,000 arrests, 8,500 grams of narcotics seized and 4,000 business checks conducted.

One of top-netting counties was Walton County with more than 1,000 arrests.

"I think we were successful because we had a zero tolerance," said Maj. AJ Smith, Walton County Sheriff’s Office. "We were hoping a message would go out and I think it did."

The message was nationwide, Smith said, noting that student's from surrounding state universities had heard about the arrests and party busts before they made their way to the beach. Local musician Chris Manson even wrote a song about it —"Spring Break in the Walton County Jail." With forcible evictions, Walton County sheriff's cleared crowded rentals and in one instance, even evicted 150 guests. 

This year, underage drinkers were served with a notice to appear or given a $250 fine. Next year, Adkinson said he is looking in to the Sheriff's Work Alternative Program, which will require breakers to come back to Walton County and "make Walton County beautiful," he said.

Sheriff Michael Adkinson with the Walton County Sheriff's Office credited the spring break success to community partners and the efforts from Florida Sheriff's Association.

"This is not a one-time thing," Adkinson said of the zero-tolerance policy. "This is business as usual."