Miami Beach City Manager Unveils New Enforcement Strategy for South Beach

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach City Manager Unveils New Enforcement Strategy for South Beach:

Plan released in advance of special meeting to discuss crime and safety in the area

Saying “The situation in South Beach has grown progressively more concerning,” Miami Beach City Manager Alina Hudak announced a comprehensive strategy for the area that includes the reassignment of 40 police officers and establishment of a Unified Enforcement Team that coordinates resources from multiple departments to address the “most pressing issues.” The details of the plan were released in advance of a special meeting of the City Commission to discuss crime and public safety in the South Beach Entertainment District following the murder of 21-year-old Dustin Wakefield, a tourist from Colorado, while he was dining at a sidewalk café on Ocean Drive with his wife and one-year-old son. 

“As we all know and understand, the many years of troubling incidents in this district can no longer be tolerated,” Hudak wrote in a letter to Commissioners. “One thing has become clear since my appointment as City Manager four months ago: it is no longer sufficient to treat what has historically been defined as ‘high impact periods’ as anomalies when every weekend brings significant crowds and challenges. Consequently, I have directed multiple City departments to develop a unified strategy in which to address the most pressing issues.”

“The plan is based on a multifaceted response to what has become a year-round threat to public safety from visitors who have demonstrated a blatant disregard for human life, public property and the well-being of our many law-abiding residents and guests,” Hudak said. “We believe this approach will create a visible and constant deterrent in South Beach through a coordinated effort by Police, Code Compliance, Fire, Homeless Outreach, Parking, Park Rangers and Sanitation. Our success depends on all City departments comprehensively working together to address the underlying issues that contribute to an ‘anything-goes’ atmosphere in this iconic district.”

Long term, Hudak wants the City to also consider the “business model” of the area, one of the points emphasized by Mayor Dan Gelber in his effort to remake the Entertainment District into an Art Deco Cultural District that mixes residential and commercial uses to create a “live, work, play” area with less emphasis on the “play.”

“I welcome a dialogue on the overall business model,” Hudak said. “I believe this requires rigorous long-term planning involving all stakeholders in our community. This administration will do everything in its power to continue to improve one of the world’s most beloved districts by bringing to bear all of our resources.”

Gelber first proposed an overhaul of the Entertainment District a year ago, doubling down on it by proposing further details in a 12 Point Plan a year later after another difficult Spring Break. His plan includes what he calls a “carrot and stick” approach, eliminating noise exemptions, rolling back hours of sale and consumption of alcohol, a heightened code of conduct for sidewalk café operators, enhanced policing and code enforcement, along with development incentives to diversify the area.

“The business model of this area needs to support other uses, including residential, office, wellness and tech uses” along with “upgraded hotels,” he said when announcing his plan.

This week, in a video message to residents after Hudak’s plan was released, Gelber addressed the enforcement efforts to date and the challenges. 

“Over the last few years, and before, we have taken significant steps in response to the disorder that has become far too common,” he said. “Among them, we have increased our police department’s size and technology, created requirements that late-night bars have off-duty cops and formed a code enforcement unit just for this area. We have increased our surveillance cameras, deployed more license plate readers in our city and on our causeways. We have also gone after short term rentals with increased Code Officers and new regulations.”

“This year alone we have arrested 3,154 people in South Beach and 1,593 of those – more than half – were in just the tiny Entertainment District which includes Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive, 5th to 15th Street,” Gelber said. Police have issued 15,542 traffic citations and seized 457 guns year-to-date, he added. And, video surveillance cameras now number 870.

“To put this in comparison, our City arrests more people per capita than nearly any of the other 34 cities in Miami Dade,” Gelber said. “It’s not easy given the crowds and unruliness. Every few days I call a police officer who has been injured in the line of duty to thank him or her for their efforts. Few cities face these challenges or ask as much of their police.”

Since January, the Mayor said, Code Compliance Officers have “issued a total of 2,606 violations for property maintenance, sanitation, graffiti, sidewalk café issues, illegal short-term rentals and noise violations. And, in the same period, issued over 500 violations for illegal boat charters, which I know have been a big problem in this area.”

“Here is the point. This little area – what we have called an entertainment district – has become an incredible magnet for crime and disorder. And whatever it provides in revenue is not worth the heartache,” Gelber said. “We will throw more police, more Code Officers at this challenge. But we must acknowledge that it’s just not sustainable. For our residents, and our visitors.”

The Mayor cited two examples of nearby cities that he said have changed the dynamic the way he wants to. “A little more than a decade ago, Coconut Grove was beset with a hard-party, late-night crowd. Plenty of all-night bars, and residents upset with crime, disorder, and general diminishment of quality of life. City leaders responded. They rolled back liquor hours [and created] a zoning code that incentivized commercial residential development and boutique offices and enforced code violations. The push back from their entertainment industry was precisely the same as you’re hearing today. Every argument is the same. But the facts speak for themselves. Today, the Grove is a vibrant mixed-use commercial and residential district. It still has restaurants and bars, but that is not all it has.” He also cited Fort Lauderdale which, he said, “had the same challenges decades before, and responded similarly.”

Details of the South Comprehensive Strategy

Hudak outlined the details of the unified effort in her letter to Commissioners. They include:

Miami Beach Police Department: Reassigned “an average of 40 officers to patrol the streets of South Beach from multiple divisions effective August 30… a staggered increase in PD visibility… not just on nights and weekends, but throughout the day.” 

  • Criminal Investigations Division: Four detectives and one supervisor in marked patrol units will be assigned to the Collins Avenue corridor.
  • Community Affairs Unit: Four officers assigned to the Washington Avenue corridor. 
“These officers are tasked with high-visibility patrols, traffic enforcement and working collaboratively with our Code Compliance and Parking departments to swiftly address violations,” Hudak said. “These men and women are also providing resources to homeless individuals and will regularly be meeting with local businesses to identify potential problems before they become flashpoints.”
 
  • A Motor Unit consisting of 11 officers and two supervisors is being deployed on both Collins and Washington Avenues between their assigned school zone enforcement details. 
  • Accident Investigation Unit:  One investigator “to further enhance traffic enforcement efforts.”
  • Midnight Platoon “overlap details” include “an average of 25 officers nightly” between 9 pm and 1 am. They are deployed in the South of Fifth, Fifth Street, Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue corridors. Overtime details on Saturdays have been created to sustain the enhanced staffing effort.
“Our Strategic Enforcement Team of eight officers and one supervisor dedicated to patrolling Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue is now teaming up with representatives from Code Compliance and Parking to proactively survey the district collaboratively on foot – taking criminal and regulatory enforcement action as appropriate,” Hudak said. “The unit conducts regular business checks along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue to address any quality of life issues or concerns they may encounter.”

“The Video Monitoring Team continues to work with Undercover Units to establish probable cause for the arrest of suspected narcotics dealers and unlicensed vendors,” she noted. At the same time, the City is “further leveraging our partnerships with federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.”

Hudak has asked for “a complete review of the MBPD off-duty program in which officers are paid by local businesses to provide an additional police presence at their establishments. For some time now, we have been unable to fill the available off-duty shifts with officers willing to accept them.” Hudak said she is reviewing the rate structure and plans to recommend a higher pay rate to incentivize more officers to accept the off-duty assignments.

“Much consideration has gone into the preparation of this comprehensive effort while balancing the needs of the entire city. I have been assured that it will not impact current patrol resources in Middle and North Beach,” she wrote.

In addition, Miami-Dade County will provide 10 officers to work weekends through the end of the calendar year. Hudak, like Gelber has, noted the “economic benefit of Miami Beach tourism” to the County overall but the “disproportionate burden” borne by the City in maintaining public safety.

Code Compliance: An additional two officers have been assigned to a Unified Enforcement Team Wednesdays through Saturdays from 5 pm to 3 am. Their focus is “addressing sidewalk café code of conduct and quality of life issues.”  Hudak added, “The enhanced Miami Beach Marina Code Compliance effort will continue.”

Miami Beach Fire Department, also part of the Unified Enforcement Team, will assist MBPD and Code Compliance with enforcement of life safety codes and overcrowding. 

“They will also be adding an Advanced Life Support Rescue Unit to the Lummus Park area each Friday through Sunday from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and will conduct nightclub inspections from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Thursday through Sunday,” Hudak said.

Office of Housing and Community Services – Homeless Outreach Services Program “will coordinate joint missions to assist the homeless throughout South Beach and other areas of concern.”

Parking Department: Two Parking Officers join the Unified Enforcement Team Wednesdays through Saturdays from 5 pm to 3 am to address parking enforcement issues, including illegal parking within residential zones.

Park Ranger staffing will increase from six to 11 with expanded coverage in Lummus Park from 9 pm to 11 pm each weekend. “Park Rangers will focus on open containers, loud music, marijuana, other drug use as well as homeless encampments,” Hudak said. “They will monitor Ocean Drive conditions during park patrols and report concerns to MBPD or Code Compliance as appropriate.”

Sanitation Division of the Public Works Department will add a four-person crew to work until 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays “to improve cleanliness” in the area. 

Facilities & Fleet Management and Public Works will “ensure that city-owned assets are well lit at night, including pedestrian corridors, parks, public restrooms, parking garages and surface lots,” according to Hudak. In addition, a gate is being installed at the South Pointe Park surface parking lot which will be closed off between midnight and 5 am.

Hudak said there is enough flexibility in the overtime budget and the proposed budget for the new fiscal year which starts on October 1 to cover the proposed changes, but she will monitor the plan “on a weekly basis and provide updates to the City Commission as needed.”

“As a reminder, between FY 2021 and FY 2022, the budget reflects 26 additional police officers on the street,” she said. “We have included initiatives to stimulate recruitment of police officers, including the highest signing bonus in Miami-Dade County and a housing stipend for sworn police who live in Miami Beach. The recruitment and training of officers takes time but is being prioritized.”

“I am committed to meeting with this multi-department team on a weekly basis and allocating additional resources as needed to deal with this evolving situation,” Hudak noted.

One of the more controversial issues, whether or not Ocean Drive should remain closed to traffic, will be discussed during an upcoming City Commission workshop on September 23. The street has been closed since last summer when restaurants were allowed to reopen following pandemic closures. To accommodate social distancing and outdoor dining requirements, the City gave sidewalk cafés the ability to expand into the street. 

Proponents like the pedestrian and bicycle access while others have said it contributes to the party atmosphere and overcrowding and is difficult to police. Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police President Paul Ozaeta previously told RE:MiamiBeach, "The consensus among us is that Ocean Drive needs to be opened. Keeping it closed encourages large groups to form, which in turn leads to problems with crowds. It's also harder for us to respond there with only 3 points accessible to most vehicles." 

An attempt to reverse the closure is part of a legal action by the Clevelander against the City that is still working its way through the Courts. While Judge Beatrice Butchko granted a temporary injunction against the 2 am alcohol rollback as requested by the Clevelander, during the injunction hearing, she ruled Ocean Drive could remain closed.

Hudak said the Administration will be prepared to discuss the options in detail at the workshop.


 

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