As college students across the U.S. flock to warmer weather in Florida for spring break, authorities across the Sunshine State are preparing for the influx by announcing new rules, curfews, and additional police.
During the pandemic in 2021 and 2022, students migrated to Florida to enjoy the relatively relaxed COVID-19 policies, cheap flights and hotels. These factors created a perfect storm and created a nightmare for law enforcement personnel in beach towns along the state’s coast.
In 2023, authorities are coming prepared to tackle potentially rowdy young adults.
In New Smryna Beach, safety has been at the top of the mind for those who live and work there after last year’s chaotic spring break.
“Twenty years I’ve been here for spring break, and that was the first time that I’ve ever seen any serious issues,” Alice Muskey, owner of Treats on the Beach, told Fox 35.
Last year’s chaos forced city commissioners to scramble and implement a temporary curfew, which authorities carried over to this year.
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“We can just tell the kids it’s time to go home. We don’t want you to congregate in large groups like we saw last year,” interim police chief Eric Feldman said.
In addition to the 11 p.m., curfew for teens 17 and younger, this spring break, residents and business owners can expect a stronger police presence.
Feldman announced Tuesday a command post will be parked at the beach lot on Flagler, equipped with cameras to keep an eye on the shore and down the avenue. Nearby business owners will have a direct line to it to report any concerns.
There will also be officers from different departments across Volusia County parked at the beach and at every intersection on Flagler.
Hoping to avoid a repeat of last year, those who work and live in the area are thankful for these much-needed improvements.
“What they didn’t do last year was they didn’t get ahead of things because they didn’t know it’s gonna happen,” Seahorse Inn co-owner Terry Stephens shared with Fox 35. “They’re trying to get ahead of it, and I think that’s a good thing.”
In Miami’s South Beach, officials warned visitors to expect heavier traffic, street closings, special events and law enforcement crackdowns.
“We’re going to really let people know that if they’re coming here, we want them to behave, and we’re going to have police to make sure that everybody is safe, our residents and our visitors.” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber announced.
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According to city spokesperson Melissa Berthier, parts of Ocean Drive will be closed to all vehicles.
In addition to an increased police presence, officials announced a series of spring break rules including: a $20 flat rate for city parking garages in the entertainment district, nightly fire inspections on weekends, and double lifeguard staffing “as needed” in South Beach.
Similarly, Okaloosa and Walton county sheriff offices have preemptively announced spring break laws ahead of a busy month of March.
“It’s no questions asked,” said Sgt. Kyle Corbitt with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office shared in a press release. “If you’re caught in possession of alcohol underage or breaking any other law, you’re going to get charged.”
Panama City Beach leaders reminded the public on Wednesday in a public service announcement that the spring breaks laws have begun and will be “strictly enforced.”
“Our goal is to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for our residents and visitors,” said Panama City Beach Police Chief J.R Talamantez. “You can have fun here without being involved in illegal activities. Be responsible and act within the boundaries of the law. We appreciate everyone’s cooperation and understanding.”
Included in Panama City’s spring break laws is a prohibition on the sale of alcohol from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. In addition, the consumption of alcohol on the sand beach is prohibited at any time for the entirity of March.
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Other city ordinances include:
- Loitering in parking lots or on the shoulder of the roadway is strictly prohibited.
- The consumption of alcohol in parking lots and in vehicles is not allowed.
- Riding on the exterior of vehicles, including sitting on the edge of window sills and standing up through the sunroof, is strictly prohibited.
- Loud music which disturbs the peace is prohibited. Music heard more than 25 feet away is illegal.
- Climbing, jumping from, or throwing things from balconies is not allowed.
- No metal shovels are allowed on the sandy beach, and digging holes deeper than two feet is prohibited. Any holes dug should be properly filled in for the safety of all.
Panama City officials shared that police will be patrolling all beach areas. Students arrested for violating any of the above spring break laws will serve a minimum of one night in jail and potentially serve up to 60 days as well as paying a fine up to $500.
In 2022, Panama City officials arrested 161 individuals over a spring break weekend and that officers seized 75 guns amid their clashes with these individuals, WRIC reported.
“What we saw this past weekend is absolutely unacceptable. Period,” said Police Chief J.R. Talamantez, who confirmed that several businesses closed their doors on Friday as the crowds gathered and disrupted the normal flow of business.
“These are the type of individuals that we’re facing,” he added. “Throwing beer bottles at police officers. Shooting right down the road. There were blue lights up and down the road as these shootings took place. The blatant disregard for public safety that these individuals are having will not be tolerated.”
Panama City Mayor Mark Sheldon said the crime was not caused by the spring breakers, but by criminals who came out under the shroud of the crowds.
Fox News’ Peter Aitken contributed to this report.
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