Miami Beach Officials Suggest Making City "Less Pleasant" to Wipe Out Spring Break

Spring break in Miami Beach
Spring break in Miami Beach Photo by George Martinez
In 2017, Miami Beach voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to move last call from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Ocean Drive. But at a recent meeting, the city's police chief, Dan Oates, suggested closing area bars even earlier — at midnight — during the busiest two weeks of spring break.

“Turn off the music on Ocean Drive,” he said during the city commission's FY 2020 budget retreat, according to RE: Miami Beach. “Shut the cafés, (midnight) last call for 15 days in March.”

The chief presented a plan calling for a major police presence similar to the "emergency" measures Miami Beach officials rolled out this year, when squads of officers patrolled the beach in riot gear. He said this would cost $2.6 million, in addition to the $1.1 million already budgeted for spring break.

If city officials convince visitors that Miami Beach is no longer fun, though, things might change. Oates acknowledged that the goal of turning off the music and rolling back last call is to "eventually make us less pleasant to come to."

The city's panic over spring break went into overdrive this year after videos went viral showing raucous crowds and fights on the beach. At a March 19 emergency meeting, commissioners decided to deploy 25-member teams of police in riot gear on Ocean Drive and the beaches. Police vans were parked along the beach to haul noncompliant visitors to jail. Mayor Dan Gelber said it felt like "an armed camp."

But Oates' idea of pushing back last call drew strong reactions from commissioners. Commissioner Joy Malakoff wanted to go even further and move last call to 10 p.m. “You have to stop making it so much fun," she said.

Other commissioners worried about the impact on businesses.

“If you kill the patient, there’s no point in operating," Commissioner John Alemán said. "People are employed there.”

Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who proposed basically the opposite idea of bringing Ultra to Miami Beach, added, "If we drive our businesses out of business, that’s not good public policy.”

Although Gelber said going militant isn't exactly a good look for the Beach, the mayor said it'd be a big deal to back off from the heavier police presence after having it in place for years. No police chief would want to do that and risk being blamed for any problems that followed, he added.

“We have to figure out how we turn the thing around from 'we’re incredibly worried about everything' to something that has become manageable,” Gelber said. 
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas