CRUNCH TIME! It’s Memorial Day Weekend 2012. Are We Ready For the Expected 400,000+ People? Have We Done Enough?
An Open Letter to Memorial Day Visitors:
Dear Memorial Day Weekend (or Urban Beach Weekend, if that’s what you prefer) Visitors,
Welcome to Miami Beach. We invite you to patronize our hotels, our restaurants and cafes, our shops, clubs, boutiques, businesses, and all else. Enjoy our sun, sand, and sea, and our nightlife, too.
All we ask in return is respect. Don’t litter. Don’t be noisy. Don’t get intoxicated to the point where you’re peeing in our bushes or passing out in our yards. Don’t congest our streets to the point where we can’t move. Understand that this is not merely a place to party but also a place where many people reside, work, and tranact business.
And most importantly, don’t start a riot, or torch the place, or start shooting at our cops. (Trust us, they have their own guns and know how to use them. You’ll only be outgunned and outnumbered.)
Don’t think we hate you. We just want to wake up on Tuesday morning and still find there’s a city here.
Enjoy your visit! (And don’t make us regret putting out the welcome mat.)
– The SunPost Staff
Ray Martinez is Miami Beach’s police chief. He spoke to local residents at a May 11 public briefing about his department’s Memorial Day weekend policing plans.
“We get prepared the Thursday before [Memorial Day weekend], where we actually go Alpha/Bravo [configuration] as a police department. Alpha/Bravo is where all our days off are canceled and everybody works a 12-hour shift.
“We put 80% of our resources on the midnight shift, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. – 20% during the day and 80% at night. We start Thursday night. Friday is when we start receiving assistance from other agencies – Miami-Dade Police, Florida Highway Patrol – and lots of smaller municipalities – City of Miami, Coral Gables, Surfside. A lot of agencies send us resources and/or equipment to help us.
“The crowds are going to come, we know that. We know that people are going to show up here. It’s not something that the city sponsors. There are no city event permits. There’s nothing that we can go to a promoter and say, ‘Hey, we’re pulling your permit, we’re canceling your event,’ and everything will return to normal. So the crowds are coming.
“We have a plan, hopefully, to manage the crowds and to address the issues that have been brought up in years past. It’s something that we’ve worked on since 2001. Each year we modify how we police it, how we respond to it and this year we have another modification, another change.”
Capt. Henry Doce is Chief Martinez’s lead man on the MBPD’s preparations.
“The main problem in years past is traffic overflow that’s taking over our residential area. It’s causing problems for the people who live here. When we have too many people in the entertainment district, we have conflicts among them. It’s a very small percent of people that come here to do wrong. Those are the people we have to target and tell to stay away, don’t come here. We want people to come here and have a good time. That’s probably 99% of people.
“We purposely are going to restrict traffic into our city. Why? Because we cannot pull 300,000 or 200,000 cars in the entertainment district. We’ve seen it for 12 years. It’s overwhelming. It chokes the city to gridlock. So by controlling the flow of traffic into the city, we’re hoping with the tools that we put into place that it’s actually going to make the event very controllable and enjoyable for the people who live here – because we’re closing off the residential areas for non-tourists – and for the people who are coming here.”
WE’RE GOING TO BE WATCHING YOU
“We’re telling people, ‘If you come here, enjoy yourself, have a good time, leave your car behind, go to Ocean Drive, and enjoy the businesses there welcoming you as we are welcoming you. Everybody’s here to have a good time.’
“We’re not welcoming those that are going to come here to do crime. That’s a big message that we are sending out. This year, if you’re coming here to do some crime, we’re going to be watching you. There’s tools in place that are going to be recording certain data on your car, checking your license plates, and we’re going to know if you’ve got a warrant, if your car’s stolen, if your tag is valid and if it belongs to that car. And it’s going to record every tag that comes into the city. We’re going to do that on the MacArthur and on the Tuttle.”
WALKING ON STREETS WILL BE VERY SAFE
“We’ve also lit up the whole entertainment district. That’s important. We’re not going to have dark areas where crime tends to occur. You’re not going to be walking down Ocean Drive and think, ‘Oh, it’s completely unlit in the next block.’ We have 50 light towers across the entertainment district that are going to make it daylight during the evening. I think it’s going to be very, very safe to be walking on the street. There are [going to be] a lot cops out here. We’ve stationed them throughout all the intersections. We’ve got a lot more bike squads.”
Deputy Chief Overton: “We’re Not Going to Let City Be Overwhelmed”
Mark Overton, the Beach’s recently-installed deputy police chief, comes to the city as a 25-year veteran of the Hialeah PD and was, most recently, its chief. He summarized the MBPD’s Memorial Day weekend strategy to Rebecca Towers residents during Mayor Bower’s “Mayor on the Move” there May 3:
“I’m very proud to be with the Miami Beach Police Department. I’m very proud the [city] manager recruited me, brought me from Hialeah to my new home, which is going to be here in Miami Beach. I’m looking forward to serving this community with the same distinction [with which] I have served the city of Hialeah for several years. It’s a great opportunity. Together, Chief Martinez and I are going to make some improvements to the Police Department and its services.
“First of all, the Memorial Day [weekend] plan. I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version because it’s a very in-depth plan that’s been months in the making.
“First and foremost is, we are not going to allow the city to get overwhelmed as we have in the past with the influx of people. That’s been the biggest problem. It hasn’t to do with any other issue, whether it’s race or creed of any person. [It's] the fact that you have a 1-point-something mile area and you have over 200,000 people trying to pack into that one area. We have put together a traffic plan that is going to basically allow us to control that flow of people into the city.
“In addition, we have extra resources. Not only do we have other police officers from other agencies helping to augment our force, but we also have hired a security company with the specialty of crowd control. There are going to be 75 to 85 of them and we’re going to put them in the areas where we need to keep people moving and keep the crowd controlled.
“We have lighting systems to light up all the area to make sure that there are no dark spots where people can congregate and cause problems. In addition to that, we have these big towers where we can put police officers on. They have cameras where we can observe the crowd, where we can record whatever happens. We can then look at that recording and find out who are the troublemakers and then make the arrests and take them out of there.
“We have license plate readers formed up at the entrances to the city so every car that comes into the city [will be checked]. The people who fly in and stay in the hotels, or are spending money, or are coming here on a vacation are not the problem. The problem is – what happened last year – there are people from the tri-county area that come over here with bad intentions. They come here and just sell drugs, to look for trouble, or to joyride in stolen cars and things of that nature. So these license plate readers will allow us to not allow them into the city. We will intercept them before they come to the city.”
Why Did It Go Wrong Last Year?
A Police Perspective
“What happened last year was one incident that ruined the whole weekend event. That was one individual, and if you go back – and this is just speculation on my part – and you take a look at his mindset, he had just committed an armed robbery two weeks before and shot somebody.
“He hadn’t been identified, hadn’t been caught. So when he got into this loop that we had, and the traffic congestion, there were cops everywhere.
“One noticed something in particular about his car, which was in fact stolen, and was starting to approach him. I think that triggered [him to panic and think], ‘Oh my god, I got caught,’ and I think that what happened after that was – as we all have seen – that is, of course, an open investigation still.
“That’s what we’ve got to stop.”
– Capt. Henry Doce
Aside from their bigger concern this week – trying to lift their team closer to the NBA finals – the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are pulling double duty as spokesmen for an online campaign targeting Memorial Day weekend visitors to Miami Beach.
The website – respectthescene – is the city’s outreach campaign to remind weekend partiers to not litter, keep their alcoholic drinks inside, keep noise to a minimum, and keep glass containers off the beach.
“This is your time to chill,” says the site, next to Wade’s and Haslem’s images. “Remember to respect the city that makes it possible.”
Included is a map of South Beach as well as useful links to event information, the city’s traffic plan, and important and emergency phone numbers, including tow companies, cab companies, and hospitals. Also provided are tips on transportation and parking, the use of scooters, bikes, and segways, and links to visitor websites.
Strangely, a photo of the site’s home page, published in the city’s current quarterly magazine, MB, shows a banner on the page which can be clicked “to register to win a Miami Beach weekend getaway.” However, on the site itself, this part of the banner is missing and has been replaced with phone texting instructions for getting updates.