MIAMI BEACH (CBS4) — The planning is over, the barricades are up and police officers are out in force as Urban Beach weekend kicks off on Miami Beach.
Visitors, expected to reach 350,000, have started to arrive for what everyone hopes will be a peaceful weekend.
The Miami Beach Police Department has beefed up security and the road closures began early Friday morning.
According to Miami Beach Police Det. Vivian Hernandez, 47 people were arrested between Thursday night and Friday morning. That’s down from 60 during this time last year. Hernandez says most of the arrests were misdemeanors and a few minor drug infractions.
Revelers say this year seems a lot calmer than years past.
“I heard that it was going to be sort of wild sort of violent sort of whatever, but I discovered it’s not that way at all it’s just a bunch of people having fun,” said tourist Troy Wright.
Some actually welcomed the increased police presence. Miami Beach Police have launched its most aggressive crowd control plan ever.
“We’re able to enjoy our time and enjoy the atmostphere have fun without having to worry about all the choas,” said Bryheem Beckett. “I think the fact that they knew there are a lot of police officers here kept a lot of the nonsense out of it.”
That plan includes the use of 600 officers, a DUI checkpoint entering the beach and scanning every license plate pulling onto the island.
The checkpoint will be active until 5am Saturday. There will also be DUI saturation and enforcement throughout the remainder of the weekend.
On the Julia Tuttle Causeway, traffic is reduced to one lane as officers use license plate readers, or LPRs, to check for stolen vehicles or tags.
“In addition to that, LPRs will let us know whether the driver that’s registered to that tag has any wants or warrants,” explained Det. Vivian Hernandez.
The moves have drawn criticism that the beach will become a police state, unlike any other major event that they have had.
Miami Beach Police Chief Raymond Martinez did say this week that he expected a higher number of arrests than usual due to the stricter rules this year.
Sgt. Bobby Hernandez of the Miami Beach Police Dept. said “Two thousand arrests are impossible. The largest number of arrests we’ve had was 1,000 a few years ago. We had 9,200 arrests last year and so 2,000 arrests would be 25-percent of the arrests we do in one year.”
Hernandez said a report from the police union that there was a quota of 2,000 arrests was not true. He noted that the two Miami-Dade Corrections buses that are sitting outside Police headquarters “are here ever year and we don’t use them.”
“We go by who breaks the law,” he said. “We want everyone who comes here to have a good time. We’ve been doing this for 11 years and we’ve never had a case of racial profiling.”
Bradford Brown, the President of the Miami-Dade N.A.A.C.P., said he was concerned about the “zero tolerance policy” that police would have this weekend. “We think some people need to be given a warning perhaps if they are not familiar with certain ordinance codes and before they would be arrested.”
“We urge the city to use all the proper procedures for public safety,” he said and added “We hope that police do not overreact to certain situations. We’re glad that police said no quota to arrests this weekend. We will see what happens.”
So here’s how it all breaks down:
Miami Beach wants to minimize the impact for residents so certain streets will be open for local residents only.
The roads that closed Friday morning will remain closed until Tuesday May 29th.
There’s a Traffic Loop in effect.
Ocean Drive is shut down to vehicular traffic from 5th to 15th Street until Tuesday at 7:00 a.m.
Collins Avenue is northbound traffic only between 5th to 15th Street until Tuesday at 7:00 a.m.
Washington Avenue is southbound traffic only between 5th to 15th Street from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
Proof of Residency will be required to enter the following residential areas:
North of 5th Street to Lincoln Road from Washington Avenue west to Alton Road
South of 5th Street to Government Cut
Dade Blvd to 41st Street and Pine Tree Drive
Proof of residency is required to enter the residential areas north of 5th Street – 11th Street from Washington Avenue west to Alton Road.
The police department has also erected surveillance towers with video equipment where officers can rewind and view video. The cameras, which can see up to a mile, will be perched on four towers stationed in Lummus Park, on Collins Avenue and on the east end of the Lincoln Road Mall.
Pairs of police will be stationed up and down Fifth Street, Ocean Drive, Collins and Washington Avenues.
The Venetian Causeway will be open only to Miami and Miami Beach residents, although restricted access will be based on the honor system.
The City is also using Goodwill Ambassadors again this year. The program was started more than a decade ago, after the huge crowds attracted by what was then known as “Hip Hop Weekend” angered and intimidated residents, and led to what many called excessive police response and hundreds of arrests.
Goodwill Ambassadors, all wearing red shirts, assist with crowd control issues, distribute courtesy litter bags and safety brochures, report service issues that need immediate attention and answer visitors’ questions.
Police say they hope the new tactics and equipment will control the crowds that come to town not just for club events but for the jam-packed, non-sanctioned street parties on Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue that have come to define the weekend since 2001.