Bay County sheriff says spring break is improving

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JOHN HENDERSON News Herald Reporter @PCNHJohn

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Laws the city and county passed in 2015 to tame spring break are working to keep crime down during the celebration, Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said Tuesday.

Ford told Bay County commissioners they need to be vigilant and continue the course.

County Commissioner Guy Tunnell, a former Bay County sheriff, questioned whether the laws — which include a ban on drinking on the sandy beach in March — should be flexible and extend into April if, on a given year, many colleges are having their breaks that month. He said he had heard some colleges were changing their breaks to April, when drinking on Panama City Beach is allowed.

But Ford said things are going well so far.

“We are continuing on a safer and more manageable trajectory with spring break,” Ford said. “I’m very pleased this year from a public safety perspective, and I attribute a lot of that to the leadership this commission has shown in the enactment of ordinances.”

Ford said the reputation of Bay County and its economy have improved a lot more quickly than he anticipated.

“Those ordinances have given us tools to help deal with some of those issues,” he said.

Ford said there was a 1.8 percent increase in calls for service over spring break 2017, with arrests up a similar 1.5 percent.

“Drug arrests were up just a little bit,” he said. “Firearms confiscated were down from 20 to 17. During the rough times of spring break, that was one of my biggest concerns … the number of illegal guns that were seized on the streets in the 2014-2015 time frame, (which) topped 100.”

Beach ordinance arrests also went down this year, he said.

“We did have a sand patrol detail we had out on the beach to enforce those ordinances,” he said.

Capt. David Baldwin, who runs the west district patrol on the beach, said with the additional personnel funded from state grants and tourist development tax money, “this was a very manageable year.”

“And I hope that continues,” he said. “We had more families on the beach that we made contact with with our sand patrol every day than in years past. As far as operational planning, the sand patrol was outstanding. The night shift was good. We didn’t have to use all the resources that we initially planned for.”

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