MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) – Fun on the beach, splashing in the water and the party town reputation is what attracts college students to South Beach for spring break.
“It’s amazing,” said Shania Lee, who’s visiting from Atlanta with nearly a dozen friends. “The sun is beautiful, the culture, the people, the vibe.”
But what people are finding more of are fights and bad behavior.
Recent video captured a huge beach brawl. CBS4 has also seen video of women fighting in the street.
Another video clip showed a man knocking a woman out.
And sometimes — it’s just chaos, like a stampede on Saturday night, with spring breakers running in fear. No one was sure of why anyone was running.
“Do you think sometime it gets too wild here?” CBS4’s Ted Scouten asked Spring Breaker Maggie Osborn.
“Yes,” she said. “We actually went home last night because we were really scared walking around.”
Homeowners are getting tired of the trouble.
“A good portion of them think they can come to the beach and anything goes,” said Scott Needelman, president of the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association. “It’s sort of like a party town and they can come here, disobey the rules, do whatever they want and not suffer any consequences.”
Needelman and the Association, like Miami Beach commissioner Michael Gongora, would like to see more enforcement.
“I’m not looking to do a Foot Loose type situation, telling people you can’t dance in our city,” said Commissioner Gongora, “But we really need to let people know you can come to our city, you can have fun in our city but you can’t violate the law, you can’t engage in violence, you can’t knock people out and you can’t run around being lewd and lascivious. And I want to see strict enforcement of the laws that are on the books.”
Police already watch from the sky to keep an eye on the crowd, they even use infrared video to see who’s on the beach at night, finding it pretty packed.
Commissioner Gongora says what’s being done now is not enough.
“The plans that we’ve had aren’t working. I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel. I’m looking to see what Fort Lauderdale, Panama City and other cities that have dealt with some type of spring break crowds have done and it’s time for us to follow their lead and take some stronger action.”
Ocean Drive is major concern for the Miami Beach mayor.
“My daughter is home on spring break and I would not let her to go Ocean Drive this weekend,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber.
On Tuesday, there are major meetings being held on the beach attempting to grab hold of the cascading issue.
There is an 8 a.m. city commission meeting dealing with traffic and crime.
At 2 p.m. there will be a neighborhood committee meeting addressing crime.
Both are being held at Miami Beach City Hall.
Then at 6 p.m. there will be a public meeting at the Miami Beach Police Department.
“You cannot allow a few blocks of your city to be ungovernable,” said Mayor Gelber. “This cannot be a normal for our community.”
As for what to do about the seemingly out of control, brawling spring breakers, the mood at city hall seems to be all about a crackdown.
“If we have to enforce our open container law, if we have to enforce our drug laws to eliminate that kind of behavior, we will,” said Gelber.
Gelber sent an open letter to Miami Beach residents late Monday afternoon.
It includes his cell phone number and email address.
This is the letter, in its entirety:
What I saw this weekend was unacceptable. We have to do a better job at addressing these high impact weekends when hundreds of thousands flock to our entertainment district in South Beach. I received so many calls and emails: from residents stuck on a Causeway trying to just get home; from people walking around Ocean Drive feeling unsafe; and from others who, like me, can’t stand the image this projects about the City we love.
I listen to every voice because I appreciate it is born out of both frustration with these events and affection for our community. If you want to talk about it, my cell phone is 305-345-7879. Don’t hesitate to call or text, or email me at DanGelber@MiamiBeachFL.gov.
The bottom line is we have become so attractive as a destination that we simply can’t process the volume of people that want to come here. And unfortunately, among the thousands that visit with the intent of suitably enjoying themselves are some who come with bad intentions, drink or smoke too much, or just are not capable of comporting themselves in a civilized way. We have tried many different approaches with some success. But often there are unintended consequences.
For instance, when we slow down traffic to limit access to our City and deploy license plate readers to identify drivers with outstanding warrants, we also create huge disruption for our residents returning to their homes. Many returning from the Heat game Friday night know what I mean. Also, policing huge crowds of young people, many of whom have been drinking heavily and might be predisposed to bad or reckless choices, poses other challenges for our cops.
Tomorrow morning, I have asked the City staff to break down what our challenges have been, how we have been responding, and what we plan on doing going forward to better control the problematic areas. Part of those plans will undoubtedly be increased enforcement on the Beach of violations of our open container and drug use ordinances. It will also include additional law enforcement and enhanced code enforcement. It’s important to me that we let the community know – including those who may be coming to visit – what to expect.
It’s critical that our residents feel safe everywhere in our community, that we don’t address these challenges at the expense of our quality of life, and that we clearly communicate to potential visitors that this is not a community where anything goes.
No one believes this is an acceptable normal, including my colleagues and our City Administration, and we will address it forthright.