If your ideal spring break includes tequila shots on the beach, blasting music from your car at 4 a.m., and smoking a joint in public, then Miami Beach isn’t the place for you.
At least, that’s the message that the city’s police department sent to college students this week in letters warning that — after a particularly rowdy spring break last year — the island plans to crack down on behavior that hurts residents’ quality of life.
“Miami Beach has been challenged in recent years by student misbehavior during Spring Break — to the point that our police department must now take a harder line going forward,” Police Chief Daniel Oates wrote in letters that were sent to universities, fraternities, and sororities across the country. “So I am writing to ask that you assist Miami Beach in sharing with your students the following message from our Police Department: ‘If you come to Miami Beach for Spring Break, you must obey our laws. If you do not, you will be arrested.’ “
The letters — sent to administrators at the largest universities in Florida and Georgia, a number of major universities in other states, and every national sorority and fraternity organization — are part of a new strategy that the city hopes will lead to a tamer spring break. The police department mailed more than 200 letters this week and plans to send more, Oates said. Miami Beach might also pay for advertising on social media to share information about the city’s rules with college students.
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“We need better behavior out of young people than we’ve seen in recent past spring-break sessions,” Oates said. “As a parent I’m very sympathetic to college-aged kids coming down here and wanting to have a good time and ending up in handcuffs and as a parent I wouldn’t want that to happen to my child so we’re trying to put the word out.”
While some cities might welcome crowds of spring-break visitors as a boost to the tourism industry, Miami Beach has become too popular a destination for college students. Last year, during the busiest Saturday of the spring-break season, crowds overwhelmed South Beach’s entertainment district. Confusion over loud noises that some visitors mistook for gunshots led to a stampede on Ocean Drive. Concerned that the crowd had grown to an unmanageable size, police temporarily shut down the MacArthur Causeway to incoming vehicles.
Residents also complained that the party had gotten out of hand, citing widespread marijuana use, public drunkenness, and public urination.
Few, if any, college students appear to have been arrested for nuisance crimes like drinking in public during last year’s spring break, according to arrest reports obtained through a public-records request. Oates said he didn’t have arrest statistics from spring break readily available but said the number of arrests doesn’t paint the whole picture. On the busy Saturday night when police had to shut down the MacArthur Causeway, for example, Oates said there might not have been many arrests because police were focused on traffic and crowd control.
After the college kids had returned home to their dorms, city officials brainstormed ways to tame the spring-break revelry, including making marijuana arrests and blasting classical music from loudspeakers to kill the buzz on the beach. (The city’s current marijuana policy is to issue fines for possession of a misdemeanor amount.)
Neither of these ideas came to fruition, but Miami Beach did take steps to address quality-of-life complaints.
In April, police announced a crackdown on drivers blasting loud music. Violators who refused to turn down the volume after one warning would be arrested, the police department said.
The City Commission voted to ban motorized-scooter rentals for the month of March, during the height of spring break, citing safety concerns caused by scooter drivers weaving in and out of traffic and entering bike lanes. That behavior, which can be seen throughout the year, becomes more dangerous when the streets are packed, proponents of the ban argued.
Miami Beach also boosted the police department’s budget for overtime during special events, meaning visitors will see more cops on the streets during spring break next year, Oates said.
“The clear message from our community and our elected officials was at the height of Spring Break last year there was a sense of disorder at times and we’re determined to reign that in,” he said.