After the Spring Break chaos, Panama City Beach expands its emergency powers

After the Spring Break chaos, Panama City Beach expands its emergency powers ...

Following a weekend of havoc in Panama City Beach, Florida, which resulted in the arrest of over 160 people, nearly half of whom from Alabama, the city has given its city manager unprecedented authority to declare a state of civil emergency and take action, including curfews, alcohol restrictions, and the closure of gathering areas public and private.

In Panama City's neighboring municipality, the city commission has postponed a decision on reducing late-night alcohol sales during the spring break and limiting them year-round.

Both regulatory actions are a response to the events of March 25-27, when officials in Panama City Beach, Panama City, and Bay County, Fla., were all accused of attracting "criminals who came to our town to be lawless and caused havoc."

On March 27, a shooting injured a man from Alabama; in total, more than 160 people were arrested, including 78 people from Alabama, and 75 firearms were confiscated.

On Thursday, the Panama City Beach City Council approved Ordinance 1586. By means of background, it says that the city has experienced an unusually large influx of visitors during the Spring Break and summer seasons, which has resulted in significant consequences, including, but not limited to, extreme traffic and congestion, and serious impacts on the City's police, fire, sanctions, and enforcement efforts. In 2021, "massive unruly crowds" were involved in "one shooting, multiple fights, thefts, and 75 illegal

The resulting ordinance, according to the paper, is intended to allow for "tough and objective actions" to prevent, respond, and halt civil troubles while also protecting the freedoms of millions of peaceable residents and visitors to our city.

The city manager, or a designee, may exercise a wide spectrum of powers, including: establishing curfews in all or part of the city; prohibiting the sale and distribution of alcohol other than on one's own premises; the closing of any area of public or private assemblage; the prohibition of low-speed automobile rentals; reducing utility services at any address; the prohibition of emergency assistance.

Such declarations will last 72 hours unless the city manager or city council has called it down sooner.

If the city manager proves to him that there is a reasonable likelihood of a civil emergency occurring within the next 12 hours, the ordinance may impose pre-emptive measures. In such a case, the city manager may exercise some of the above provisions, but not all. A pre-emptive emergency declaration is limited to a one-hour period, including two 24-hour extensions.

The Panama City Beach City Council agreed that the city already had the authority to adopt such measures, with the intention that they might be implemented following a citywide event such as a hurricane. The new ordinance has mostly enabled the city to respond more quickly and more selectively, according to several members.

This is already the powers that are granted in the city council by state law, charter, and ordinance, said vice mayor Geoff McConnell. This is just something I believe is going to significantly reduce our time to keep our residents safe.

"It's accelerating the process for public safety,," said councilman Phil Chester. "I think this is something that the council should have done years ago," said councilman Paul Casto.

In the two months of March and April, the ordinance would prohibit alcohol sales, which included security employees, parking arrangements, and criminal background checks.

Commissioners said that city staff were still working on changes to the ordinance and that it should be ready for further discussions at the commission's April 26 meeting.

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