Panama City Beach leaders announce plan to manage weekend crowds


PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — Panama City Beach leaders announced a plan at Thursday’s city council meeting to manage weekend crowds and large group disturbances.

This comes on the heels of a large fight which broke out over the weekend at the ‘Circle K’ on Front Beach Road. Panama City Beach Mayor, Mark Sheldon, said city leaders are taking this very seriously.

“If you come to Panama City Beach this weekend and you don’t follow the law, you’re going to end up going to jail,” said Sheldon. “We’re going to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

City officials said this past weekend was the busiest Memorial Day weekend the city has ever seen; now, they’re making sure that the weeks to follow are more manageable. They said they are working with law enforcement on strategies to reduce large group and individual disturbances around the city.

“We’re going to have more officers out this weekend,” said Panama City Beach Police Chief, Drew Whitman. “We’re going to beef up our enforcement, thanks to the other cities around us and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.”

They’re adding 40 additional police officers on Friday and Saturday as well as helicopter surveillance from BCSO. However, Sheldon said that in order for the strategies to work, it has to be a team effort with local businesses.

“We want public partnerships with folks that own businesses here, but they have to be a part of the team,” he said. “They can’t be a part of the problem, we need to be a part of the solution.”

They’re asking businesses that have seen disturbances like Circle K and Walmart to hire private security officers for their own establishments.

One local resident, Shane Hamilton, lives near those establishments.

He said those areas are typically busy with questionable activity and that he tried reaching out to the corporate offices of both businesses to warn them of potentially dangerous situations over the holiday weekend and to ask them to bring in additional security. He said neither company agreed to do so.

“I think that if they can’t provide their own security to keep things in line then they need to move on out of here and let someone in that can provide their own security,” said Hamilton. 

Sheldon said the city has sent letters to both businesses asking them to hire their own security officers for their premises. He said if they fail to prevent ‘pop-up parties’ on their properties, it will result in fines or even loss of business licensure with the city.

Hamilton said he is happy to see city leadership taking a stand.

“I think it’s a great plan and I’m glad that the mayor reached out to the Circle K corporation and as well as Walmart here,” he said. “I believe that with the incorporation of these committees and councils that the citizens are involved, that there will be some changes going on and hopefully quickly before something else happens.”

The city will also be putting light towers in this area to deter shady activity through the nighttime hours. Panama City Beach City Manager, Tony O’Rourke, said the focus must be on prevention of disturbances in the first place before mitigating a potentially dangerous situation, and city leaders are asking businesses and residents to help them make that a priority in the weeks to come.

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