Florida beach city may cancel Spring Break

PANAMA BEACH CITY, Fla. -- The tourism council in Bay County, Florida voted Tuesday to spend more money on spring break security after a month of violence in Panama City Beach -- mostly fueled by alcohol.

Some people in town wonder if it's time to close the party down for good.

When partiers show up, the population grows 2,000 percent -- from 12,000 full-time residents to a quarter-million, mostly college kids.

It's a big local pay day: March alone pumps $90 million dollars into the local economy.

"When it hits, you literally go from a crawl to 100 miles-an-hour overnight," says Sparky Sparkman, who owns the Spinnaker, a beachside bar. "Therein lies the problem of spring break."

So many problems, the Bay County sheriff has to set up a "Spring Break Jail," a mobile booking center. This year there were almost 1,100 arrests -- triple the previous year's total -- mainly for drinking and drugs.

But armed and dangerous suspects jumped six-fold, from three to 18. Sexual assaults almost doubled, from six to eleven.

A gunman shot seven people at a house party a few weeks ago.

Cell phone video shows the apparent gang rape of a 19-year-old unconscious woman. Two men have been arrested and authorities are looking for additional suspects.

"What's so disgusting and repulsive and sickening about this is, this is happening in broad daylight," says Sheriff Frank McKeithen. "Within ten feet of where this is happening are hundreds, hundreds of people standing there.

"We're in chaos right now," says resident Wes Pittman. "This Spring Break and the way it has evolved over the last couple years has become a blight on the entire community."

The city tried cracking down, and forcing bars to close two a.m. Drinking on the beach was banned temporarily.

"Whatever it takes to get spring break under control, we're going to do it." vows Mayor Gayle Oberst.

Even if that means kicking Spring Breakers out of Panama City Beach?

"Yes. No matter what it takes," Oberst says.

Next month, the city council could vote on whether to permanently ban drinking on the beach -- which could encourage college kids to spend Spring Break somewhere else.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.