WCSO and OCSO plan to beef up their police force over the 7 weeks of spring break.
The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Walton County Sheriff’s Office will be adding at least six extra deputies each to patrol during spring break and will pay them overtime, according to OCSO head of spring break operations Sgt. Jason Fulghum and WCSO Capt. Audie Rowell.
The overtime beach shifts, which will pay time and a half, will be rotated among deputies throughout both departments during spring break.
The total cost for both departments' overtime is budgeted at $221,941.20, according to estimates from both sheriff's offices. Factors such as rainy weather or lower-than-expected turnout could reduce the cost.
In Okaloosa County, hourly officers who are paid overtime will receive an average of $41.65 an hour, according to OCSO, which is estimated at $20,991.60 per week and $146,941.20 for all seven weeks. That bill will be footed by the Tourist Development Department, Okaloosa County and the city of Destin.
In Walton County, the hourly pay range for hourly officers ranges between $17.15 an hour for a communications officer and $43.07 an hour for an investigator. Sheriff Michael Adkinson said his department has budgeted about $75,000 in overtime pay for extra deputies, dispatch and communications officials. In addition to the six deputies that will be paid overtime, between 25 and 30 deputies will be temporarily reassigned from other posts such as school resource officers or investigators to help patrol spring break.
The move comes as both departments prepare for what will likely be another busy spring break season, which began Feb. 25 and will last until April 22. Both departments used overtime deputies last year.
“We’re using the exact same system that we used last year, and last year it was very effective,” OCSO's Fulghum said. “We’re using the exact same operational plan that we used last year, with the additional personnel being brought out, zero-tolerance policies and 100 percent arrests.”
In Okaloosa, Fulghum said the six extra deputies will be dispersed between the beach, the road and the command post. Walton County deputies plan to patrol mostly throughout Walton's side of the Crystal Beach area and along County Road 30A.
“Extra-duty deputies will primarily be used along the Scenic Gulf Road corridor and along the 30A/Seaside area,” Rowell said in an email to the Daily News.
The OCSO made 393 spring break-related arrests in 2016, while the WCSO arrested 155 people and issued 139 Notices to Appear in court.
Officials hope to maintain or lessen the number of arrests this year.
“(The number of arrests are) probably going to stay about the same, but we’re hoping it will go down based on the fact that the 100 percent arrest rate is preventing them from coming here and drinking underage and causing problems,” Fulghum said.
Rowell also hoped for fewer arrests.
“Due to our past zero tolerance (policy) to criminal activity such as underage drinking and our aggressive campaign in getting our message out to college students and high school students about the expectation of vacationing in Walton County, we are hoping for less arrests this year,” he said in the email.