Bay Co. Sheriff Proposes New Spring Break Rules

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BAY COUNTY - Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen is calling for some major changes to clean-up spring break in Panama City Beach.

McKeithen sent a letter to the Panama City Beach city manager last week detailing his recommendations. Other Florida cities adopted similar recommendations in the past to help them end spring break.

Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen says his deputies and Panama City Beach Police has had their most effective spring break enforcement effort in years, but he says it's still not enough.

"This is not an issue that can be enforced away. We could put a thousand officers out there and some of these issues that we're dealing with cannot be enforced away. There's going to have to be some changes," said Major Tommy Ford of the Bay County Sheriff's Office.

In his letter last week to Panama City Beach's City Manager Mario Gisbert, McKeithen recommended 5 major changes.

First on the list, banning open alcohol containers on beaches and parking lots and closing bars at 2 A.M., but only during the spring break season.

Also McKeithen recommends strictly enforcing underage drinking and fire safety ordinances and using spring break marketing money to advertise these new changes instead.

"The man's been in law enforcement for over 40 years. He's the sheriff of our county. I respect him. I look up to him. This is something he's thought long and hard about and he put it down in writing. Before I can make my mind up, I'm going to talk with him," said Chief Drew Whitman of the Panama City Beach Police Dept.

The call for change comes at the same time Fox News personality Sean Hannity aired a series of unflattering reports about spring break in Panama City Beach.

Other communities that have cracked-down on spring breakers brought an end to that segment of their tourism business.

"When you take something from here, it automatically goes some place else. We've got to be careful when we take something away from one location where and how it's going to affect the other locations, so we're looking at all the information," said Mario Gisbert, Panama City Beach City Manager.

"Nobody's calling for spring break to be eliminated, but we just have to decide as a community what we want spring break to be."

A group of local business leaders, also supporting spring break changes is scheduled to make their case to Panama City Beach City Council members during their next meeting.