Under siege from spring breakers, Miami Beach looks for solutions

Influx of college students bringing more traffic, crime

By Tim Swift - Local10.com Digital Editor, Madeleine Wright - Reporter

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Miami Beach unveiled an unconventional tourism slogan this spring break season -- "Come for vacation, don't leave on probation." Apparently, the message hasn't been received. 

After a series of fights and other disturbances along South Beach, Miami Beach officials met Tuesday on how to better handle the annual influx of rowdy college students.

Officials were concerned because videos of the fights were posted on social media, tarnishing the image of Miami Beach as a tourism destination.

Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates defended his officers and said the department has devoted significant resources – nearly $700,000 – of officers' overtime, but the city has seen a more than 30 percent increase in police and fire calls this spring break season.

"There's a narrative that the cops weren't working hard and doing their job and that couldn't be further from the truth. Very tough, long hours. Thirteen to 14-hour days," Oates said. "There's nothing they're not willing to do. We had two officers injured in a single incident on Saturday."

Oates said the number of spring break visitors peaked this past weekend, which also coincided with the St. Patrick's Day holiday.

"The most demanding weekend is the weekend we just went through, followed closely by the upcoming weekend," Oates said.

Oates said officers would be more aggressive this weekend, cracking down on people carry open containers and prohibiting parking on a portion of Collins Avenue.

Not all of the department's efforts have been well-received. Miami Beach police started sending letters to the schools of college students arrested in Miami Beach this year, but quickly abandoned the policy after complaints from city officials.

"If there's a silver lining, there's a limited geographic area," said Jimmy Morales, Miami Beach's city manager. "We've dealt with this on Memorial Day weekend. ... We need to retake control of the area."

Morales said he has asked the police department to create patrols of the beach in the mornings and afternoon, confiscating alcohol and drugs.

"We can't control the streets if we lose control of the beach during the day," Morales said. "It will be challenging and may not be pretty, but I've assured command staff, but we'll stand behind the officers to take control of the beach."

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