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Crowds, arrests down at Memorial Day Weekend in Miami Beach

Sedate Memorial Day revelers strolled up and down Ocean Drive on Sunday, occasionally stopping to take pictures, listen to hotel DJs spin hip-hop, and watch groups of men try to get bikini-clad women to talk to them.

“To be honest, there are a lot of beautiful young ladies here,” said Miami native L.J. Bennett, 19, who was perched with pals Ryan Jones, 21, and Jay Chandler, 22, in front of the Versace Mansion.

(The interview was cut short when five women walked by wearing short shorts and bikini tops.)

Known since 2001 as Urban Beach Week, Memorial Day weekend in Miami Beach has been a see-and-be-seen, hip-hop-themed party that has attracted throngs of mostly young, black men and women.

Crowds have appeared slimmer this year than in recent years, a possible result of beefed-up law enforcement in the wake of the deadly police shooting of 22-year-old Raymond Herisse on Collins Avenue during Memorial Day Weekend in 2011.

Arrests also have been down slightly. From Friday morning through Sunday morning, Miami Beach police and assisting task forces reported 176 arrests, down from 182 in the same period last year.

Felonies are up: 33 this year, including three aggravated assaults, from 27 felony arrests and no aggravated assaults last year. Misdemeanors are down: 143 this year, from 155 last year. Also down: Calls to 911 and other service requests, of which there have been 1,097 this year and 1,222 last year.

The increased police presence includes a strictly enforced traffic loop around South Beach that some say has been a blessing and a curse.

“We are having less customers than in a normal weekend,” said Scott Molk, food and beverage manager at Ocean Drive’s the Clevelander, pointing to empty tables.

Molk said he believed the lower turnout is due in part to Ocean Drive being closed to vehicle traffic, but he understands why the restriction is in place.

“People are crazy this weekend, and having no cars is safer,” he said.

Many on Sunday evening headed west, to Bayfront Park in Miami, where more than a dozen reggae and dancehall groups performed at the annual Best of the Best music festival.

Others were content to stay on the beach and take in the scene.

Ambria Cunningham, 23, and friend Raven Moore, 22, flew to South Florida from Alabama on Friday to celebrate Moore’s college graduation. They planted themselves on Ocean Drive ever since, where they were people-watching on Sunday afternoon.

The two said past violence associated with Urban Beach Week didn’t deter them from planning their trip here.

“I heard it was ratchet, but it’s only ratchet if you surround yourself with ratchet people,” Cunningham said, using urban slang to refer to “low class.”

They found their sweet spot at Fat Tuesday, where the ladies said they’d been throwing back Jell-O shots and watching interesting sights, like a drag queen dressed as Mary J. Blige.

Between getting stopped “every two minutes” by guys looking to chat them up or ask them to check out a mix tape, the two agreed this has been a memorable Memorial Day Weekend.

“It’s been crazy,” Cunningham said.

First-time Miami Beach visitors Shantavea Perry, 26, and Lisa Smith, 29, of Greensboro, N.C., said they were enjoying South Florida’s vibe and beauty despite a few disappointments.

Their hotel didn’t provide parking, and their rooms air conditioner had been acting erratically, they said. While trying to dine on Ocean Drive, the two young women heard some unusual requirements.

“They were like, ‘We need your ID, and you have to pay first before you put your order in,’” Smith said.

Those experiences didn’t sour their taste of South Florida; they said they may come back in August, which will give them a chance to experience the town on a more-typical week.

The ocean here, Perry said, is hard to resist.

“It’s so blue,” she said. “I love it.”

Miami Herald writer Fernando Peinado contributed to this report.