PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) – Two shootings and massive crowds of spring breakers have pushed the city of Miami Beach to declare a state of emergency. It may be hard to believe for some, but Panama City Beach was once that same wild spring break destination.
NewsChannel 7 sat down with City Manager and former Police Chief Drew Whitman Tuesday to get a better idea of how things have evolved.
The sounds of gunshots sent crowds of spring breakers running through the streets of Miami Beach Sunday.
“We don’t want spring break,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said.
It’s a familiar feeling for Whitman.
“A lot of it resembles what we dealt with back in 2014, 2015,” Whitman said.
Back then, Panama City Beach was considered the mecca spring break destination. The city made national headlines for all the wrong reasons.
“In the early 90′s MTV came here and when MTV started coming up that’s when we started having problems,” Whitman said. “There was a lot of parties, a lot of shootings, stabbing, fights, robberies, rapes. All the violent felons that we don’t want here.”
Whitman said he knew things had to change and change quickly.
“Our community had enough, our residents had enough and our business owners had enough,” Whitman said.
In 2016, city leaders started fighting back. New laws were put into effect to help regain control of the beach. Alcohol was banned on the sandy beaches during the month of March and all liquor sales ended at 2 a.m.
It was a big decision not everyone agreed with.
“Wasn’t easy all the time. You still had a group of people that still wanted spring break like it was in the day where they can make all their money in the month of March and then leave,” Whitman said. “But we fought for the residents and we fought for the community.”
They were fighting for the family-friendly destination we see today.
“They’re relaxed, their kids can walk up and down the beach without any kind of threats that we had in the past,” Whitman said.
Whitman said everyone is welcome to come and enjoy the sandy beaches as long as they play by the rules.
The ordinances last through the end of March.
A full list of the rules:
- No possession or consumption of alcohol on the sandy beaches
- No possession or consumption of alcohol in commercial parking lots
- All alcohol sales to end at 2 a.m.
- No open house parties are allowed
- No parking in closed business parking lots, unless the parking lot is actively being managed
- Overnight scooter rental is not permitted
- It is illegal to climb, jump from or throw things from balconies
- No metal shovels are allowed on the beach, and no holes may be dug deeper than two feet
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