An estimated 200,000 people packed South Beach through Memorial Day on Monday, capping a holiday weekend marked by dancing in the streets, teeny bikinis, overwhelming police presence and traffic gridlock.
There were 153 arrests through Sunday, an uptick from 115 from the previous year – perhaps due to larger crowds. Most arrests were for misdemeanors, though there were two felony arrests on Sunday for battery on a police officer.
“There have been no major incidents. It continues to be a relatively peaceful and enjoyable event for everybody,” Miami Beach Police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said.
The weekend is known as Urban Beach Week and attracts people from across the country for a lineup of parties and concerts.
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The city’s handling of the event, which draws a mostly black crowd, has been criticized by civil rights groups for its heavy police presence. About 500 police officers worked the weekend, with the entirety of the Miami Beach force involved, as well as agencies from around Miami-Dade County.
Rodriguez pointed to the agency’s social media accounts, which featured smiling event-goers posing with officers, as a symbol that the tone has changed.
“I think those pictures speak for themselves,” he said. “There’s been a big shift, I think, in the community.”
In 2011, the weekend was marred by a police shooting that killed Raymond Herisse and wounded four bystanders. More than 100 rounds were fired as Herisse’s car barreled down a packed Collins Avenue. The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office found the 12 officers involved in the shooting were “legally justified.”
Big crowds during the weekend follow a banner-year trend for tourism on the Beach this year — but that’s not entirely good news for city officials who are working on ways to manage the impact.
In March, a swell of Spring Break revelers caught the city by surprise, and a fight on Ocean Drive shut down the iconic street.
The city got another hit from Floatopia, when thousands descended on the sand with inflatable rafts during an impromptu event organized through social media. Partiers left the beach strewn with trash and lifeguards had to make more rescues than normal.
The chaos has prompted Miami Beach city commissioners to wrestle with new ways to regulate high-impact events. That has proven difficult since they are largely unofficial gatherings, organized by no one in particular and spurred by social media. Among the commissioners’ proposals: giving the city manager power to shut down busy streets more easily, imposing $100 parking rates for non-residents and banning tents on the beach.
“We’re not a sleepy beach town nor do we pretend to be,” Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco said. “But at some point there’s a line that you have to draw when it comes to having open arms and needing to ensure public safety and quality of life.”
When it comes to Urban Beach Week, the city is planning an air show during the same weekend next year. Grieco said the city already has a signed agreement for 2017. He called it a way to remember what the holiday is supposed to be about.
“This is Memorial Day weekend. It is nothing else. To call it anything other than Memorial Day weekend is pretty much disrespectful to anyone who died serving in the military,” he said.
Miami Herald reporter Joey Flechas contributed to this report.