Swarms of rowdy beachgoers erupted into violent brawls. Police were overwhelmed as they tried to quell the chaos. Dozens ended up arrested while worried business owners looked on. Just another Memorial Day weekend in South Beach, right?
Actually, not so much. That chaotic scene, in fact, went down yesterday in Fort Lauderdale. In SoBe, where panic over a hip-hop-fueld party informally known as Urban Beach Weekend led residents to flee, restaurants to close, and hundreds of cops to put the island on lockdown, arrests were down sharply this weekend from last year. The only bit of excitement came last night when an officer accidentally fired her weapon.
See also: Photos from Urban Beach Week 2014
A total of 191 arrests were made between Friday and Sunday evening, according to numbers released to Riptide by Miami Beach Police, with 41 people booked on felony charges.
Compare that to last year, when 357 arrests were made in the same time span, including 65 felonies, and it's clear something has changed.
Sgt. Bobby Hernandez, a Miami Beach PD spokesman, credits a combination of better education and community outreach to visitors and a shift in focus by the local cops as the reason behind the quiet weekend.
"We've changed our strategy slightly in that we're a little less 'zero tolerance' than in years past," Hernandez tells Riptide. "Quite frankly, that approach just doesn't work."
Hernandez says that crowds were similar in size to last year's holiday weekend but that word has spread about MBPD's traffic loops and routine license plate checks on the causeways leading to the Beach.
"The traffic strategies do cause a backup, but the benefits outweigh the problems," he says. "There isn't anyone left in South Florida who doesn't know that there will be a lot of traffic and a lot of cops. If you're a troublemaker, you know you'll probably go to jail."
Cameras installed in public places throughout the Beach and ambassadors preaching a "Respect the Scene" message to visitors also helped tamp down on drama this year, Hernandez says. MBPD will hold meetings this week to review the weekend's action and to consider whether police still need such a bold strategy next year.
"Maybe next year we can peel back on the police presence," he says. "Though you need to build momentum with a few quiet years like this before you can comfortably make that move."
One of the few newsworthy moments from this weekend came just before 11:30 last night near 16th Street and Washington Avenue, when an MBPD officer fired her weapon during a traffic stop, shattering at least one vehicle's window.
Officers are still investigating what happened, but Hernandez says that indications are it was an accidental discharge.
Here's a more detailed breakdown of this year's arrest totals versus last years. (These numbers don't include arrests Monday, which haven't yet been tallied; the totals for 2013 are also minus Monday arrests.)
Total Arrests: 191
Arrests by Race: 118 black males, 58 white males, 9 black females, 6 white females
Felony Arrests: 41
Felonies by Crime: 17 drugs, 15 "other felonies," 4 battery on a police officer, 2 aggravated battery, 1 aggravated assault, one robbery, 1 "CCF"
Total Calls for Service: 1,685
Total Arrests: 357
Arrests by Race: 207 black males, 108 white males, 23 black females, 19 white females
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Felony Arrests: 65
Felonies by Crime: 3 aggravated assault, 4 CCF, 28 drugs, 6 battery on a PO, 24 "other felonies"
Total Calls for Service: 2,075