Miami Beach confronts disastrous spring break: 1,000 arrests, 100 guns seized

Five outside law enforcement agencies have chipped in to help manage the unruly crowds

By Bianca Padró Ocasio, Colleen Wright, and Charles Rabin
The Miami Herald

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — After a weekend of partying and mayhem that once again put Miami Beach in the national spotlight, police said they had made more than 1,000 arrests since spring break began in early February and have enlisted the help of five different law enforcement agencies to try and control the overflowing crowds.

The agencies assisting Miami Beach until the end of spring break on April 12 will be Miami-Dade, Miami, Coral Gables, the Florida Highway Patrol and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Those agencies will supply more than 50 officers to assist Beach patrols.

A police officer on an ATV patrols in Miami Beach, Florida's famed South Beach, Monday, March 22, 2021.
A police officer on an ATV patrols in Miami Beach, Florida's famed South Beach, Monday, March 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The majority of 1,050 arrests since Feb. 3 have been for minor crimes and misdemeanors. There have been about 400 arrests for felonies and most of those, according to police, have been of visitors from out of town. Police said they seized more than 100 guns.

City leaders clamoring for more police enforcement had an emergency session on Sunday, in which they extended the closing of the eastbound traffic on the causeways during certain hours and extended the 8 p.m. curfew until April 12. Yet even as the city was dealing with blowback from some residents, some Miami-Dade Black leaders argued police were acting too heavy-handedly and that the city had not offered the visitors enough things to do with many of the clubs closed due to COVID and few or no events on the beach.

Though most of the charges by police have been for minor offenses, there was one particularly egregious case last week when police said two North Carolina men partying in South Beach on Thursday drugged and raped a 24-year-old woman from Philadelphia, who was found dead in a hotel room. Police say both men, ages 21 and 24, then stole her credit cards to keep partying. They were both arrested and are facing charges including burglary with battery, sexual battery, petty theft and fraudulent use of a credit card.

But many others said they were just trying to have a good time after a year with few positive highlights.

Monday night was the first night back to a midnight curfew after a wild weekend with a sudden curfew of 8 p.m. Restaurants operated normally and groups of tourists partied on sidewalks drinking, smoking and twerking to music off booming Bluetooth speakers. Miami Beach Police presence was visibly minor, with only a few SUVs and four-wheeled ATVs seen on several blocks down Lummus Park.

A local from South Miami-Dade who said his name was G. Hanky said police took his speaker away last week.

"The reason why it's more big this year is because we missed last year," said Hanky, 28. "After this month, it ain't gone be like this."

He had a theory for why things got out of hand and police imposed an early curfew over the weekend: Tons of young people are partying with stimulus checks.

"They got money and don't know how to act," he said.

'Some are bringing guns'

Police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said the department is not planning on deploying any other special equipment, but Coral Gables police did deploy a military-style vehicle called a Bearcat to enforce Saturday night's curfew, which was announced just four hours earlier.

Miami Beach mayor Dan Gelber, meanwhile, stressed in a video statement on Monday that many of the vacationers are not "college kids on their vacation," but rather visitors who are traveling with criminal intentions. While the city does not want to be reactive to the incidents, Gelber said, the measures were necessary.

"Over the last weeks and longer, our city has been one of the only true destination cities open for business anywhere," Gelber said. "While most of our guests come here for all the reasons we hope they do and follow rules, there are clearly too many coming here with other ideas. And some are bringing guns."

He added many visitors view masks and social distancing as an afterthought, at a time when Miami-Dade County is still seeing about 1,000 new COVID-19 infections a day and hospitalization rates have still not seen enough of a dip.

Over the weekend, the Miami Beach City Commission unanimously decided during an emergency meeting that an 8 p.m. curfew in South Beach's entertainment district would remain and that the eastbound lanes of the MacArthur, Julia Tuttle and Venetian causeways will shut down at 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday for the remainder of spring break, April 12.

Residents, hotel guests and local business employees are exempt from causeway closures on the MacArthur and Tuttle. The Venetian is resident-only during the causeway shutdown hours.

The curfew affects South Beach's main strips of Ocean Drive, Washington Avenue, Collins Avenue and Española Way from Fifth to 16th streets, an area bound by Ocean Drive to the east and Pennsylvania Avenue to the west. Restaurants in the zone can remain open for deliveries until 6 a.m., but their sidewalk cafes and COVID-era outdoor seating expansion must close at 8 p.m.

With little police in sight on Monday night, few paraded through Ocean Drive, where several confrontations between police and vacationers took place over the past several days.

A group of four friends from Brooklyn celebrating belated birthdays stood off to the side near Lummus Park to enjoy margaritas and Hennessy out of the bottle. They said when the city shut down, they headed north to Hollywood for strip clubs and parties.

"Stuff is still open outside of here," said Tiffany Banks, 23, who arrived in South Beach last Tuesday.

She agreed with Hanky: "Everyone's getting the unemployment money, they're coming straight here," Banks said.

She and her friends are headed back home Tuesday night, but plan on drinking in warm weather clothing until then.

"We gotta live it up before we get back to the cold," Banks said.

Miami Herald staff writers Monique O. Madan, Rob Wile, Aaron Leibowitz and Martin Vassolo contributed to this story.

(c)2021 Miami Herald

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