ZERO TOLERANCE – Spring Break on the Gulf Coast
I recently attended an event at Mountain Brook High School regarding Spring Break 2017. The event was hosted by “All In Mountain Brook” in cooperation with Mountain Brook Police Chief Ted Cook. Chief Cook arranged for law enforcement officials from Alabama and Northwest Florida to come to MBHS and speak to parents in an open forum environment. The law enforcement officials included the Police Chiefs from Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Orange Beach, Alabama, the Deputy Chief and a Lieutenant from the Panama City Police Department, and the Lieutenant and Sergeant from Walton County, Florida, covering Highway 30A (including Grayton Beach, Seaside, Watercolor, Rosemary Beach, Seagrove, etc.).
These officers came to MBHS to address the issues their communities and their law enforcement agencies face with spring break crowds. These issues include rampant underage drinking, DUIs, drug distribution, possession and use, property crimes, vandalism and wanton destruction of property, sexual assault, rape, and death. These issues involve junior high, high school, and college kids, “predators and thugs” who come to the beach to prey on, sell drugs to, and steal from the kids, and parents who condone and participate in underage drinking. Each of these jurisdictions and communities reached the same conclusion on how to address these issues. ZERO TOLERANCE.
The following information is an outline of how these jurisdictions intend to handle spring break. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list, and as the officers all said, “If it’s illegal where you came from, it’s illegal at the beach.” For more specific and up to date information, you are encouraged to review the websites and Facebook pages of the law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction you plan to visit.
- In each of these jurisdictions, if you are underage and have alcohol in your possession or in your system, you will go to jail.
- If you do not have a room and try to sleep in your car, you will be awaken and ordered to leave or be arrested for trespass.
- If you violate any of the terms of your lease (alcohol in the unit, open house parties, loud noise or music, destruction of property, too many people, etc.), you will be immediately ejected and lose all of your prepaid rent and deposit.
- Climbing, jumping, and throwing items off balconies is prohibited.
- A first offense Minor in Possession will cost a minimum of over $600 in fines and court costs, but it is a Class A Misdemeanor which carries a fine of up to $1,000 and one year in jail.
- Prisoners (that is, anyone who is arrested) in Orange Beach will be taken to Orange Beach jail, then to Foley and ultimately to the County Jail in Bay Minnette (45 minutes to an hour away) as the number of prisoners increases. Prisoners in Gulf Shores will go to Foley then Bay Minnette. If it is a felony arrest or if you are arrested by a Baldwin County Deputy Sheriff or Alabama State Trooper (including Alabama Marine Police), you will go to the County Jail in Bay Minnette. Prisoners in Walton County, Florida, will be taken to DeFuniak Springs (up to an hour and a half away), Oakloosa County (Destin) prisoners will be taken to Crestview (up to an hour away), and Bay County (Panama City) prisoners will be taken to the Bay County Jail which is 30 miles East of Panama City “in the middle of nowhere.”
- You will spend the night in jail if arrested.
- Most of these jurisdictions publish all mug shots and arrests online.
- The judges who hear spring break cases tend to lose their compassion as spring break wears on resulting in higher fines, jail time, and harsher sentences for parents arrested for condoning underage drinking and for repeat offenders.
ORDINANCES AND ISSUES SPECIFIC TO GULF SHORES, ALABAMA
- Gulf Shores has a local ordinance that bans ALL alcohol consumption and/or possession on its beaches by ANYONE, regardless of age from March 1 through April 17. ANYONE caught with alcohol in their possession or in their system will be arrested.
- Gulf Shores has a midnight curfew on all of its public beaches for anyone 18 years old and younger.
ORDINANCES AND ISSUES SPECIFIC TO ORANGE BEACH, ALABAMA
- Orange Beach Police and the Alabama Marine Police will be doing enhanced martin patrols around Perdido Pass, the islands just inside the pass, and the waters around Ono Island. Florida law enforcement will be patrolling neighboring Florida waters. These patrols will be conducted during both the day and at night.
ORDINANCES AND ISSUES SPECIFIC TO WALTON COUNTY, FLORIDA
- The Whale’s Tail area is a no alcohol area. If you drink there, you will go to jail.
- Walton County has had difficulties in the Town of Seaside with junior high and high school aged children. The Seaside community is working closely with Walton County on this, and there are some major changes this year. The Walton County Sheriff’s Department will have its mobile command center in Seaside.
- Seaside will now restrict all of its beach access points with security guards. No children 18 years and younger will be allowed on the beach with backpacks or bags.
- No one under the age of 18 will be allowed on Seaside’s beaches or in Seaside’s public areas (i.e., the amphitheater) after 8:00 pm without their parents. Children are not allowed to “hang out” unattended or unsupervised in Seaside. This has become a major problem.
- Watercolor also has its own security who will be enforcing its rules. Anyone who refuses to follow its rules will be handled by the Sheriff’s Department.
- Rosemary Beach has a curfew of between 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm (check for specific times during your visit). There are two to three Sheriff’s Deputies in Rosemary Beach at any given time.
- Drugs are a big issue to the Sheriff, and anyone with drugs will go to jail.
- Parents who host, allow, condone or participate in house parties and/or underage drinking will go to jail along with their child(ren).
ORDINANCES AND ISSUES SPECIFIC TO PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA
- Panama City has a local ordinance that bans ALL alcohol consumption and/or possession on the sandy beach by ANYONE, regardless of age through the month of March (this will likely be extended into April). ANYONE caught with alcohol in their possession and/or in their system will be arrested.
- Possession and/or consumption of alcohol in commercial parking lots is also prohibited.
- All alcohol sales (including bars) ends at 2:00 am through the month of March (this will also likely be extended into April).
- Overnight rental of scooters is prohibited.
- Metal shovels and holes deeper than 2 feet are prohibited on Panama City beaches.
ORDINANCES AND ISSUES SPECIFIC TO OAKLOOSA COUNTY, FLORIDA
- Destin and Ft. Walton are in Oakloosa County. While not present at the meeting, the Florida law enforcement officers presented confirmed that Oakloosa County is taking the same Zero Tolerance stance as Walton County.
GENERAL SAFETY CONCERNS AND COMMENTS
The officers reminded everyone that each year, they have to call parents to inform them that their child is deceased. Most of the time, it is the result of a stupid decision: Leaning over a balcony, going into the Gulf of Mexico during a dangerous rip tide situation or double red flag, drinking and driving, drug overdoses, and so forth. The officers all asked that as parents we remind our children that “Decisions have consequences,” and bad decisions often have negative or even fatal consequences. There are bad people who come to spring break solely to prey on high school and college kids. They break into their cars and steal their valuables; they sell the kids drugs (heroin is especially a concern); they prey on girls to sexually assault them or rape them. The officers believe that many of these concerns can be addressed by the parents knowing where their children are and what they are doing.
The officers did make it clear that they want people to come for spring break and come during the summer for vacation. They want families who can enjoy the beautiful Gulf Coast beaches without petty crime, vulgar language and large scale drunken debauchery. They want to provide their visitors with a friendly and safe place to visit, and they want to ensure the safety of all of their spring break visitors. Read the full story in Village Living here.
We at the Law Offices of Thomas J. Skinner, IV, LLC, are providing this information as a public service, and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. If, unfortunately, you or your child needs the services of a lawyer in lower Alabama or the Florida Panhandle, we will be happy to refer you to one of the several lawyers we know on the Coast. We at the Law Offices of Thomas J. Skinner, IV, LLC, hope you and your family have a safe and enjoyable spring break.