In an effort to cut down on crimes committed on the beach, the Miami Beach City Commission this week voted to close public beaches and parks at 10 pm versus midnight.
The item’s sponsor, Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said she realized that the item “became a little controversial” and that she had read complaints on social media but she emphasized there were “some scary statistics about things that are going on on the beach after 10 pm”. She said she wanted tourists to be aware that “after 10 pm we’d rather you not be on the beach because we’ve had a very difficult time with violent crime”.
Local resident Ken Bereski, who is a candidate for Mayor, said he runs on the beach at 10 pm and he’s never had any problems. “That being said, I understand there are problems that happen on the beach. But it’s not just between 10 and 12. And closing the beach formally is not going to change that … The crime on the beach is not a time specific thing. It happens 24 hours a day.”
His biggest concern, he said, was that “Unless you happen to be staying at a hotel between 5th and 15th Streets, when you walk to the beach, there is nothing to indicate that the beach is closed.” Without anyone knowing what time the beach closes, he said this action wouldn’t accomplish anything except “to lower the reporting of crimes that happen during those times because people are afraid you’re going to go after them for being on the beach when it’s closed.” He called the approach, “a knee jerk reaction” to a major crime problem across the city.
Rosen Gonzalez said the education point was well taken and Commissioners discussed an educational campaign through the various hotels. But, she added, “This is just one component of several. We’re closing down package stores in the MXE. We are installing cameras. We have an increased police presence. We have put park rangers on the beach. I think we’re attacking this on so many different levels because it’s so multi-faceted. You can see that there’s a referendum item to close down all the clubs at 2 am. We’re trying to attack crime.” She noted a local Crime Prevention and Awareness group that has formed, “The citizens have risen up.” And, she said the beach closing “is just one more step in a very comprehensive approach to attacking crimes that we’ve been having recently on Miami Beach. It’s not just closing the beach.”
Commissioner Ricky Arriola called Police Chief Dan Oates up to the podium saying, “I don’t want people harassed for being out there. We’re trying to stop the bad guys. I know how the world works. Sometimes we sweep the good guys up. I don’t want that.”
Oates responded, “Our cops are pretty sophisticated. They will use this as a tool. They will use it wisely as they have done with the current ordinance. You don’t get a lot of complaints that we’re arresting the wrong people after midnight. This is a good thing from a law enforcement perspective. We’ll use the tool wisely and judiciously.”
City Manager Jimmy Morales said, “One of the things that motivated this is that recently, unfortunately, we had a sea turtle that was probably hit out there by equipment. One of the challenges when you have the beach open so late is that officers have to go out there, there’s equipment, concessionaires. We’re trying to reduce just the overall traffic out there because also the wildlife out there is put in danger by all that activity.”
John Deutzman, one of the founders of the Crime Prevention and Awareness Facebook group cautioned, “Of course we support this but when we talk about the hotels, this is a delicate issue. And I’m like the wise guy mayor of Amity [from the movie] Jaws … it’s a realistic problem. We don’t want our tourists from around the world to know that there’s sharks in the water so we have to play this carefully … There’s got to be a way to work this out where we protect our visitors without screaming there’s a shark in the water.”
After the measure was approved 7-0, Rosen Gonzalez gave a shout out to Michael DeFilippi, founder of the Clean Up Miami Beach Facebook group, which the crime group spun out of, for initiating the idea. It started as protection for the endangered sea turtles that nest on the beach but then “became something to do with crime”, she said.
DeFilippi told RE:MiamiBeach, “I went to her because she has championed the surveillance cameras on the beachwalk … She’s personally walked on the beachwalk at night and she’s seen the concerning element there.” Now that the beach is closed earlier, DeFilippi said, “People can be arrested on the beach for trespassing after hours. If they are [repeat offenders] on probation and they know they can’t be on the beach after 10 pm, they’re less likely to be on the beach doing stuff.”
He agrees there needs to be a consistent message and signage that stops people from going on the beach. “This is a good time to create consistent messages and signs out at all the beach entrances. North of 14th Street there’s nothing that says when the beach closes so people just walk out on the dark beach and they have no reason to know it’s not safe.” The lack of signage and information he said, “is just irresponsible” on the part of many different stakeholders.
As to the hotels, he said, “This is one of their major issues when their guests have their stuff stolen … I think they have a duty to protect their guests somewhat whether it’s warning them not to take valuables on the beach, telling them when the beach closes, or having security guards to protect their properties.” It’s simple but very important communication, he said.
beaches will now close at 10 pm:
measure is designed to reduce crime
effort succeeding in taking repeat offenders off the city's streets
City sponsored meeting generates recommendations