PANAMA CITY BEACH — In the wake of a record number of tourists, the Panama City Beach Police Department already has spent its entire $100,000 budget for mutual aid this year.
It was that, paired with the realization the current travel trends could continue through the summer, that led Panama City Beach City Council members to recently allocate an additional $50,000 to the department.
“Typically, we do not go out for much mutual aid outside of the month of March,” Councilman Geoff McConnell said. “This year (has) proven to be challenging. (We did) this out of an abundance of caution, just to make sure that they have the resources.”
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McConnell, who added that the money will fund additional officers in Panama City Beach during “high-peak times,” said he didn’t expect the police department to need even more money for mutual aid this year.
However, it’s still a possibility if the demand is there.
According to PCBPD Interim Chief Chad Lindsey, the department’s budget for mutual aid in 2020 also was $100,000, but not all of it was used because of shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That still didn’t stop Beach police officers from responding to more than 80,000 service calls, the most for one year in the city’s history.
The department has already responded to more than 32,000 calls this year, almost 3,000 more than during the same period in 2020, Lindsey said.
“We hope the additional funds will suffice, but the city is having a record year when it comes to tourism,” he wrote in an email. “People are traveling and while it is a great thing that they are traveling here, it does strain our public safety resources.”
He said that the extra money will buy the help of officers from surrounding agencies, including the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, Panama City Police Department, Lynn Haven Police Department and Parker Police Department.
Lindsey also said mutual aid is becoming difficult to get because “many departments are stretched thin.”
PCBPD currently has 68 full-time officers and is working to recruit more, he added.
“While we cannot predict the future, all indications are that tourism and travel will continue to be strong through the summer,” Lindsey wrote. “People, especially from states with more restrictive COVID-19 shutdowns, are anxious to get out. Florida is open, (and) we are extremely busy.”