Spring break is always a busy time for Florida law enforcement. Each spring, thousands of college students and young people flock to the state’s beaches to party, but police say that this year’s spring break is especially chaotic and dangerous.
The rowdy behavior of those descending upon Florida cities this year has led local businesses from Miami Beach to Florida’s Panhandle to temporarily cease operations and has even triggered shootings and curfews.
On April 3, Bay County law enforcement officials said a 21-year-old vacationer from Alabama was shot in the foot during a shooting when things got out of control 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 told reporters following the shooting. “We are doing the best to manage this situation.”
Police got wind of the situation just before the shooting started. Six people were detained and could be charged with attempted murder.
In addition, Panama City Beach law enforcement officials displayed 75 guns they confiscated in recent weeks — a testament to the illegal activity that spring break attracts.
Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said that 161 people were booked in the county jail over the weekend, which he described as “difficult, trying and dangerous” for everyone. Seventy-eight 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.”
Panama City police Chief Mark Smith said that even some local nightclubs volunteered to close their doors to snuff out the parties.
However, officials say this year is particularly dangerous as those who were arrested were not your typical spring breakers looking for a good time.
“These are criminals that came to our city and brought the guns with the intent to commit some type of act,” Smith said.
Meanwhile, law enforcement in South Beach, Florida, reacted to the spring break crowds by imposing a curfew when public drinking, gambling and violence got out of hand. Miami officials declared a state of emergency and even closed down roads to manage the chaos.
Police said several shootings in the area injured five people over the past week.
In response to the chaos, the Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police union tweeted a video of officers in golf carts surrounded by a mob of partygoers.
“The video is a snippet of the crowds and dangers we face. Officers are EXHAUSTED. The party needs to end,” President of the union Paul Ozaeta wrote. “City officials must take immediate and firm action to ensure the safety of officers and residents.”
Citizens across the state say they prepare for spring break by staying in and waiting it out.
“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.”