Florida officials fight back against rowdy spring breakers
Cities such as Miami and Panama City dealing with influx of problematic visitors
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Rowdy spring break crowds have forced curfews and led some establishments to close their doors from Miami Beach to Florida’s Panhandle.
Law enforcement officials in Bay County, Florida, said Sunday that they won’t tolerate the bad behavior from spring breakers after a 21-year-old from Alabama was shot in the foot Sunday during a shooting in Panama City Beach.
”The crowd that has been here this weekend, there are no words that can describe the way they have behaved themselves, conducted themselves and the amount of laws they have broken,” Panama City Beach police Chief J.R. Talamantez said Sunday after the shooting. “We are doing the best to manage this situation.”
Police received word that the large crowd was out of control just before the shooting happened on Sunday afternoon. Six people were detained and officials said they could be charged with attempted murder related to that shooting.
Law enforcement consficated 75 guns, which they spread out on a table during a news conference on Monday in Panama City Beach.
Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said 161 people were booked into the county jail during a “difficult, trying and dangerous weekend. He noted that 78 of those arrested were from Alabama.
“Each one of these 75 illegal firearms represents a violent armed encounter with law enforcement,” Ford said. “This weekend could have very well resulted in tragedy of a law enforcement loss of life, a citizen’s loss of life and even a bad guy’s loss of life.”
Some local nightclubs volunteered to close their doors on Sunday night, Panama City police Chief Mark Smith said.
Officials noted that most of those arrested were not typical “spring breakers.”
“These are criminals that came to our city and brought the guns with the intent to commit some type of act,” Smith said.
In South Florida, raucous crowds, public drinking and growing violence associated with the city’s world-famous South Beach neighborhood led officials to impose a midnight curfew over the weekend. The action followed shootings that injured five people on South Beach last week.
The 10-block stretch of Ocean Drive known for art deco hotels, restaurants and bars lies between areas that cater to more affluent tourists, as well as locals. Many longtime residents have learned to treat spring break like a hurricane: Stay inside and hunker down until it’s over.
When asked about a possible curfew in Panama City Beach, Talamantez said “nothing is off the table.” He said officials are evaluating the situation. Officials plan to meet again on Friday to address the issue.
“I know the citizens are frustrated. Trust me, we are frustrated too,” Talamantez said. “The harsh reality is we cannot control who comes to town. But what we can control is what happens to you if you commit a crime in this town. We will hold you accountable.”