TREASURE ISLAND — It's mid February, and in past years that meant thousands of college spring breakers jamming Sunset Beach streets and neighborhoods, and, of course, the beach near Caddy's bar and restaurant.
But this year, maybe not.
Escalating complaints from Sunset Beach residents over disruptions and misbehavior of often-drunken beachgoers prompted the City Commission last year to ban drinking during daylight hours on the beach during most of the year.
"We do not think it will be the same crowd size, but we will be ready," police Chief Tim Casey told the commission last week.
Beginning Saturday, he will assign two additional officers to patrol the beach and neighborhoods for the next two weekends and may increase that in March if crowds are bigger than he anticipates.
Caddy's, which last year had five on-site security staffers, plans to again put up signs at the edge of the property telling beachgoers that they cannot bring coolers onto that portion of the beach.
Casey said Caddy's owner, Tony Amico, has agreed to hire and pay for as many off-duty officers as the city determines are needed.
"This will be the first spring break that we can evaluate the effect of the new alcohol regulations, which should provide us with a better foundation to plan future police deployment," Casey said.
For years, weekend drinking and lewd behavior among spring breakers prompted complaints and even lawsuits from Sunset Beach residents.
Among the issues were heavy traffic, blocked streets and driveways, drunkenness and obnoxious behavior — including beach visitors urinating in residential yards and participating in trysts in beach dunes.
In 2009, city officials increased the weekend police presence on Sunset Beach during spring break and the summer beach season, banned beer kegs, installed videocameras and tightened parking regulations in Sunset Beach neighborhoods.
At first, many of the problems and the complaints abated, but last year even rowdier crowds, often numbering in the thousands, again flocked to Sunset Beach.
When Casey said his department could no longer fully control the crowds, the commission enacted a partial weekend restriction on alcohol on the beach, extending from February to the first weekend in October.
The ban begins just south of the Island Inn at about 99th Avenue and extends south on Sunset Beach to the north side of the Sunset Chateau condominiums at about 85th Avenue, but does not apply to Caddy's private portion of the beach.
From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., beachgoers, including residents, in the affected area are prohibited from consuming alcohol or bringing any open containers of alcohol onto the beach.
The ban is in effect on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
Casey said Community Policing Officer Daniel Savarese will be one of the two additional officers supplementing the regular weekend patrol and will monitor both the Sunset Beach crowds and drum circle activity.
Beginning in May, Casey also plans to progressively increase the number of officers patrolling the Sunday evening drum circle as the need develops.
Normally there are up to four officers, both uniformed and in plainclothes, patrolling the event during June, July and August.
One key assignment will be to enforce the city's recent ban on leaving unfilled large holes on the beach.