FL: Zero-Tolerance: OCSO reports 428 underage alcohol arrests in 23 days
By Kimber Collins
March 24, 2022
DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — Northwest Florida deputies arrested 428 minors in 23 days of spring break activity on Okaloosa County beaches.
Lieutenant Jason Fulghum with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Beach and Marine Operations said deputies have arrested hundreds of kids ages 13-20 with alcohol on every patrolled beach.
This year with COVID protocols, deputies are not taking the teens and young adults off to jail. Instead, deputies cite the kids with a notice to appear before a judge and an arrest on their permanent records.
“It’s still an arrest,” said Lt. Fulgham. “A lot of people are under the misconception that it’s just like a fine amount, and they may get out of it eventually with just paying a fine, but it is still an arrest.”
Okaloosa County has a strict zero-tolerance policy for underage possession of alcohol. Adults over 21 are allowed to have alcohol on public beaches, with the exception of glass bottles.
Lt. Fulghum said the main problem they see every year is high school kids drinking and starting fights. OCSO said the first few weeks of spring break were tame with a majority of college-aged kids.
“They’re just here to have a good time, and they don’t think about the consequences that often happen with that,” said Lt. Fulghum. “The issue is obviously the binge drinking. And with that you end up getting people who are, you know, alcohol poisoning, they fall off the balconies, they get into fights and you know they just don’t see the bigger picture of how the issue of them drinking creates.”
Lt. Fulghum said the kids are getting creative trying to hide the alcohol from beach patrols but nothing works.
“We’ve had them put it in suntan lotion bottles and then complained to us about how it tastes after they were drinking it out of the suntan lotion bottles,” said Lt. Fulghum “We’ve had them use the fake soda can covers to put it in. They’ll put it in different types of containers. They buried their actual coolers or in the sand to try to hide it from them, and you know, ultimately, none of it works.”
Deputies pulled over a car full of spring breakers and forced them to dump all of the alcohol into the sewer.
The majority of complaints to OCSO this season are for loud noises coming from young crowds on the beaches and walking around Crystal Beach. Lt. Fulghum said he wants everyone that comes here to have a good time, but have a good time safely.
“We want people to come here. We want people to have fun. We just want them to do it safely and we want everybody to understand that what we’re doing is with their safety in mind,” said Lt. Fulghum. “We’re just trying to keep people from getting hurt. And that’s the entire focus of our efforts.”
If beachgoers notice any unruly behavior and would like to report it to Lt. Fulghum’s office, contact 850-651-7400.
Lt. Fulghum said the busiest days of the week are Sundays and Mondays after the new group of weekly travelers gets settled in and see the rules enforced first hand.
“They get in so late on Saturday they’re not really ready to go to the beach,” said Lt. Fulghum. “Then Sunday and Monday they get out there and we end up interacting with a lot of them, and then as the week goes on, they figure out that hey, we’re not, You know we’re got a zero-tolerance for this and it starts slowing down and then the following Saturday a new group will come in and we’ll have to go through the whole process all over again.”
Although 428 arrests in 23 days is a lot. Lt. Fulghum said there is no way to tell if it is a record until the season is over.
“It’s been pretty steady this year. It’s hard to compare years past to current years because it all depends on which schools are coming when,” said Lt. Fulghum. “Sometimes schools that we get the majority of the students coming from will come earlier in spring break, and sometimes they’ll come later. So until the actual entire spring break’s over, it’s hard to say if this year is busier than last year.”