MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Spring break has long been a period of high alert for Miami Beach police, as more than half a million tourists from across the country are expected to converge on the 7-mile stretch of sand.
"We're always on high alert," said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber. "Last year was especially terrible. Our community is probably even more popular this year than it was last year. Our hope is that people learned a little bit of the experience from last year. We intend to arrest people who violate our rules."
The city of Miami Beach recruited officers from across the state to prepare for spring break after large riots broke out last year.
The city declared a state of emergency after arresting more than a thousand spring breakers in 2021. Gelber warned tourists Friday that the crowds will face consequences if spring breakers create more problems this year.
"We almost always have to close the causeways simply because our city has reached a capacity the way a huge stadium might reach its own capacity," he said. "We just can't take more people. We have too many people on our roads; our emergency vehicles might not be able to traverse to deal with the peril."
In addition to the increased police presence, businesses in Miami Beach hired additional security for crowd control this year.
"We're hoping that the Miami Beach police team are more on top of the crowds," said Len Evans of Palace Bar. "People were dancing and jumping on cars. They were extremely intoxicated, high on drugs, fights everywhere. It was just very unsafe. It was a very unsafe place to be. I felt unsafe to walk on that street because people would just punch people randomly. It was just very chaotic."
The business lost thousands of dollars last year as customers would begin fights and leave without paying.
"If you're a spring breaker and you want to come to South Beach, come to Palace, have drinks and let's have a good time," Evans said. "Just don't get too wild. Don't punch random people. Don't punch the staff, and don't walk out without paying."
The city spent the last few months preparing for spring break, adding an alcohol ban on all public beaches to try to cut down on crime.
In addition, some areas in the city of Miami Beach will have restrictions on alcohol sales. In February, the city voted to temporarily restrict alcohol sales after 2 a.m. in high-traffic areas. The temporary ban will end March 21.
"We don't really know exactly what's going to happen," Gelber said. "But if the past is any kind of future for us, we know that we're going to get a lot of people in a week or two, and then it may be necessary to close causeways."