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Miami Beach preps for Memorial Day Weekend

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Memorial Day Weekend is just days away and Miami Beach is gearing up with a game-plan for the onslaught of tourists ready to descend on the small island.  

"South Beach is for having fun so I can't take it away from all the wonderful, wonderful people," said David Wallack, owner of Mango's Tropical Cafe on Ocean Drive.

But this weekend will not be business as usual for Wallack and his popular South Beach bar. He has to rent vans, hire extra drivers, and increase security for his establishment and his employees as preparations for the thousands of people that will flood the beach.

"For the most part, our staff is afraid to come to work and afraid to go home from work," said Wallack.

For the past few years, he has suffered the loss and cost of repairing and replacing his entire patio space after mobs and crowds took over Ocean Drive.

"We're going to probably be closing the outside cafe at night on Friday, Saturday, and maybe Sunday," said Wallack.

As business owners plan for their workers and the weekend revelers, Miami Beach police is stepping up its holiday weekend plans.

"It's just one of those weekends that we get overrun and we get over-capacity and that's when it becomes difficult to manage," said Police Chief Raymond Martinez.

Just two months on the job, the chief is already having to prove himself in one of the biggest annual beach events.

"Whether it's the Super Bowl or whether it's the Boat Show, they bring different challenges and obviously Memorial Day brings a different challenge," he said.

As Martinez reassured the community that this year would be better, a complaint came from his own officers' union.

In an email, a union head wrote that the real plan involves an arrest quota of 2,000 and called that "aggressive... patently unfair and unjust."

"This is a big mistake they're making," said ACLU's Howard Simon. "Their goal should be zero arrests, not two thousand arrests. If police are going to use arrests not as a last resort, but as a first resort they're gonna make the situation worse."

Martinez denied that any quota exists, saying, "I want to be clear – there is no arrest quota for Memorial Day weekend or any other day on Miami Beach."

He vowed that officers will only be enforcing all applicable laws.

For the past 11 years, hundreds of thousands of party-goers have squeezed into the small island every Memorial Day Weekend. 

But it's last year's shooting on Collins Avenue and 16th Street that left one man dead and four others wounded that no one can forget.

"The residents tend to feel like they are under lockdown and there is a great deal of fear of going out," said Miami Beach resident Heidi Calvin.

To change that, this year Miami Beach police is cutting down on cruisers. From 7 p.m. Thursday to 7 a.m. Friday through Tuesday, Ocean Drive will be closed to cars.  

Washington Avenue will travel southbound only. Collins Avenue is exclusively northbound, making a traffic loop between 5th and 15th Street. Access to Alton Road through side streets will be limited to residents ready to show ID's. 

It's something Calvin isn't crazy about.

"We live south of fifth and we just won't go out after seven, I guess, for the whole weekend," he said.

Fifty light towers will shine out the shadows in all the dark corners and cameras will be mounted to towers recording the weekend happenings. Increased patrols with officers on 12-hour shifts at an extra cost of more than $1 million in overtime will be implementing zero tolerance for drinking, litter, and noise.

"We've conducted a lot of training. It's ongoing this week as we lead up into Memorial Day and we really think we have a tremendous plan in place this year and we're hoping for a very safe and uneventful weekend," Martinez said.

"I remember Spring Break when I was a kid and we shut down Fort Lauderdale and at a certain point Fort Lauderdale kicked everybody out," said Wallack.

About the Authors:

Jacey Birch anchors Local 10 News Mornings each weekday from 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. She is also proud to be the animal advocate for Local 10's investigative team.