Starting as early as this weekend, spring breakers visiting Sunset Beach will be met with a heavy police presence, surveillance cameras and a "no tolerance" policy when laws are broken.
"Last year, we were pretty successful, all in all, and will follow the same pattern of law enforcement this year," police Chief Tim Casey told the City Commission last week.
Most of the city's community policing officer's time during the spring and summer will be spent patrolling Sunset Beach and the weekly drum circle event. In addition, up to eight officers can be assigned at any one time to the beach patrol.
Police officers will "integrate themselves" into all areas of the beach and nearby neighborhoods to "maintain a high visibility," Casey said, "to deter or apprehend persons observed in the act of public urination or littering."
Police will arrest and jail anyone seen violating the law, he said.
"We are convinced the policy of incarcerating any eligible offender had a profound effect last year on persons watching," Casey said.
Police officers will be ready, as well, to intervene in verbal confrontations between residents and beach visitors.
• • •
For the past several years, Sunset Beach residents have complained about traffic, drunken behavior and even beachgoers using their bushes to relieve themselves.
The city's police department will concentrate law enforcement to the north and south of Caddy's restaurant, which residents say is the main draw for the thousands of beachgoers that crowd Sunset Beach on weekends every spring.
Casey said Caddy's will again prohibit coolers on its property, a policy that caused many beach visitors to move north and south of its property.
"The crowd density (at Caddy's) was remarkably less than previous years. This has created gathering areas with the largest crowds on the beach area north of Caddy's and opposite Sun Vista Park," Casey said.
One side effect of making Caddy's beach property largely "offense free," Casey said, is a resulting logistical concern for police officers in enforcing the city's ban on beer kegs and other alcohol-related violations.
"We anticipate the spring break crowd will use the entire beach," Casey said.
He plans to position police officers, including some in plain clothes, more to the north and south of Caddy's.
Caddy's will again deploy its own security staff within its property.
Last year, Caddy's owner Tony Amico said he spent $94,000 for off-duty deputies and other law enforcement and security to patrol his property.
"They demonstrated their ability to handle most of the patron activity with little assistance from us," Casey said.
• • •
One of the most effective city police department efforts last year was the installation of surveillance cameras near Caddy's.
High resolution cameras that can tilt and zoom will again be mounted on poles near Caddy's. The cameras are connected to a digital recorder and are monitored by police staff.
"People on the beach knew they were being recorded, and it had a better effect than we thought it would," Casey said.
Cameras recorded "highly intoxicated" people, as well as people illegally bringing glass containers and dogs onto the beach. It enabled the police department to dispatch an officer immediately to the scene.
But what was the most "phenomenally successful" city response to spring breakers, Casey said, was one-side-only street parking in Sunset Beach neighborhoods.
"That was our biggest success, no question, in reducing complaints," he said.
By the end of this year's spring break and heavier summer months, Casey said, his department will have adequate statistics to determine the success of the enhanced law enforcement program on Sunset Beach.