'Luck is not a plan': Commission torn over extending emergency Miami Beach curfew & evening booze ban
Following two consecutive nights of shootings, an emergency curfew order for the City of Miami Beach was enacted, with rules extending for approximately 48 hours. Today at 4 pm, commissioners for Miami-Dade met to discuss the potential of extending the ruling, some with hopes it could make a positive impact on crime and crowds in the evenings.
The curfew was originally set on Sunday March 19th, ending at 11:59 pm on Monday, March 20 with an applicable area extending across Miami's South Beach — the area of effect extending from 23rd Street and Dade Boulevard on the North to First Street on the South, and from Ocean to The Bay on the East and the West.
It also imposed a ban on off-premises alcohol sales and consumption for the duration of the curfew, in addition to a list of other rules that also applied to local businesses. The extension would re-implement the prior rules from Thursday, March 23 through Monday, March 27. It would also close out the city's public parking garages starting at 9 pm on Thursday to reduce visitor accumulation.
"After implementing evening programming, concerts with diverse and renowned artists, athletic competition of professional and Olympic caliber athletes and an outstanding art festival, it is clear that the crowds that came here this weekend were intent on causing chaos." said City Manager, Alina Hudak, in her opening statement.
"All athletic competitions experienced full-capacity in both courts. We went into this weekend prepared...with high-hopes and optimism as arrests and enforcement information showed progress. Every public safety asset in our city was mobilized," Hudak stressed, "including the twenty plus LPR details we have in our city. Every form of enforcement in our jurisdiction was enhanced. We did everything we could to protect the neighborhoods as we always do."
She continued on to show compassion for all the victims who came to Miami to experience the Spring Break dream and instead found themselves caught in the crossfire of crowds and deadly public shootings — stating an imperative to ensure that such an event doesn't occur again the following weekend.
She strongly urged the commission to vote yes on the curfew's extension. "Many of us haven't slept in three days." Hudak added, thanking those who stood by her side through all hours of the night.
Discussions following her opening statements were quicky interrupted by a man shouting at the commission to do their jobs to protect citizens and police. He would continue to interrupt throughout the duration of the special meeting. Prompting officials to threaten his removal to get him to calm down.
Though his interjections difficult to hear in the echo of the room, occasionally they prompted applause from the public in attendance.
Interjections weren't the only thing causing tension on the board though, with some frustrated over the amount of money and experience at stake for a variety of parties, while others were more concerned with lives on the line and the legalities of suggested public safety measures.
Vice Mayor, Steven Meiner, expressed his support of the curfew and its extension, saying enough was enough after the City had seen similar chaos for several years in a row now. Later, he would express some frustration that they were having to have the same conversation over the curfew as they did last year, despite commending Manager Hudak's best efforts.
"It will never be okay for me to see a dead person on our street." Meiner's voice wavered. "These are people with families, with friends who are in mourning right now. Sometimes we forget that."
Without the curfew, Meiner doesn't believe the citizens will be as safe as they can be.
While he believed that most people came to have a good time in Miami, the commissioner had to recognize that the sheer volume of people and the presence of guns created a perfect storm that has been difficult to police — stating he would be pushing hard for the motion's passing, as well as the future implementation of scattered checkpoints for South Beach visitor safety in their highest trafficked areas.
Commissioner Alex J. Fernandez added that over 322 arrests had been made leading up to the state of emergency, in addition to the more than 70 collected firearms over the last several weeks. Fernandez also referred to his conversations with police, saying they had expressed a desperate need for the extension before quickly stating his intent to side with Manager Hudak's recommendation.
Commissioner Rickey Arriola erred on the side of discussing reform — lightly stating the current rules didn't do enough to accommodate businesses and their employees, as well as major events in the area like Ultra Music Fest and the Spring Breakers who spent a lot of money to come enjoy Miami Beach's many amenities.
Arriola urged the commission to suggest potential amendments to the motion that could add to public safety without unduly affecting their community's businesses. He also expressed concerns for employees working night shifts having to go without a paycheck as a result of the curfew, before referring to the floor and those on zoom for comment.
Arriola continued that he strongly felt as though Ocean Drive needed a beefing up in security simply due to being the largest area of land-mass, visitor crowding, and concentrated crime in their city.
"People should not be able to walk into a crowded area with weapons..." dejected Arriola, "There's got to be a better way than we saw last weekend."
He also offered up the addition of more barricades, lights, potential metal detectors including check points and wands, as well as other public safety enhancers as Meiner had earlier suggested, before deferring to the city attorney to confirm the legality of such an implementation.
"To wand people in public right away, without reasonable suspicion is something that would implicate constitutional concerns." City Attorney, Rafael Paz added. Some back and forth ensued before turning to comments from Commissioner Laura Dominguez and Kristen Gonzalez on Zoom, both expressing similar views.
Gonzalez expressed frustration with Spring Breakers committing crime and trashing the city, as well as pain over the loss of two victims this last weekend. She also added concerns over the economic impact for those working big events like Ultra, as well as all the money the city already sank into the festival — which Manager Hudak said totals in the millions of dollars.
Both Gonzalez and Dominguez voted in opposition of the curfew extension.
The vote ended with a 4-3 split, decrying that the curfew would not be extended at this time. "We cannot punish weekend number four for the actions of weekend number 3." Commissioner David Richardson added. However, Richardson proposed a counter measure — a temporary ban on packed alcohol sales from liquor stores after a certain time during weekend four, simply shutting them down early at 6 pm daily.
The proposed counter measure stirred up some strong split feelings.
Vice Mayor Meinor said it felt like someone was bleeding out and he had to put a band-aid on to try to fix it, citing that he didn't want to vote no, but that he didn't really feel like it would do much, and expressed feeling of being torn on the matter. He was the only one on the board to vote in opposition of the counter measure.
"This is like acknowledging we have a problem, but we don't want to take the bold action because we don't want to piss off important businesses in our city," retorted Commissioner Fernandez, "We have a crisis in our community. We don't want to take the bold action, but yet, we want to take a very...weak action, that we don't even know if it's going to make a difference."
"We have our chief of police who stood in front of us...who told us that to protect the life and safety of our community, they were recommending extending this emergency order; and we voted no? And now we're just going to close off packaged liquor stores? It's something, but it's not really what the men and women who run towards the bullets need in our community."
"We need to respect the needs of our officers out there fighting this when we are not out there." Fernandez ranted before ultimately voting in favor of the temporary sales curfew. Mayor Gelber was also in agreement with Fernandez, though he felt that the situation was still just a tinder waiting for a spark to ignite it.
"Even though there were not shootings [the first two weeks] it did feel like a tinder. Talking to the police out there...they all felt like there was a situation that could easily erupt into a dangerous moment in our city. The fact that it happened on the third week and not the second might just have been luck but luck is not a plan. Luck is not a plan." said Gelber.
While he also ended up voting in favor, passing the counter-motion 6 to 1, Commissioner Arriola was clear in expressing his disdain with the decision.
"Let's be real, if it's not going to make a difference, don't punish the businesses that are going to be affected by this." said Arriola in his objection to the motion. "They're gonna bring their own booze. Booze is easy to get. The bars are gonna be open...their ability to get liquor whether it's across Miami or just north. It's easy. This is really like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic."
He continued to list remedial measures he felt should be explored as mentioned by both Meiner and himself, such as the erection of barricades, adding more spotlights to Ocean Drive, and closing out parking garages after 9 pm to force South Beach partiers to seek a different place to hang out.
Despite the fact that the commission voted against the curfew extension and for the packaged alcohol store limitations, the motion will not limit the manager's power to enact another emergency 72 hour order if needed the weekend of March 24.
To read the original curfew's rules, check out our prior coverage here.
Article by Rachael Volpe