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Florida wants to break away from “spring break” revelers

Photo: Chandan Khanna Archives Agence France-Presse Fort Lauderdale police officers patrol the beach area on March 16, 2022.

Hannah Sampson – The Washington Post

March 11, 2024

  • United States

Florida's Beach Towns and Spring Break (spring breakAmerican) have a long, sometimes even sordid, history. And even today, their relationship remains complicated.

Visitors pump billions of dollars into Florida's economy. An estimated 135 million people visited the state last year. But as high school students, college students and adults flock to beaches these days, destinations are preparing to welcome them with drones, bag checks, beach closures and additional police personnel. Lots of extra police.

“Eight times that,” said New Smyrna Beach Police Chief Eric Feldman.

Miami Beach tackles this spring break head on, with a campaign that wants to “end this relationship.” The campaign uses a video as well as a series of fines, fees and rules, which are promised to be strictly enforced. In recent years, the city has worked to stem violence over the holiday, which has led to hundreds of arrests and two fatal shootings in 2023.

“It doesn’t work anymore,” you can hear in the ad posted on YouTube. “And it’s not us, it’s you. We want different things. »

The video features footage of last year's violence and explains what visitors can expect over the coming weeks: curfew, controls, restricted beach access, driving monitoring DUI and $100 parking fee.

Miami Beach Mayor Steven Meiner said the city still wants to welcome visitors and that the vast majority of tourists come just to have a hassle-free, good time.

“The challenges we face are the number of people coming in a short period of time and in a very small area on Ocean Drive,” he explained. “Unfortunately, a small percentage of people have created serious problems for our city. »

Last Tuesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said in a press release that state law enforcement would have a presence in Miami Beach, as well as Daytona Beach and Panama City Beach.

“Florida is a very welcoming state, inviting people to come and have fun. What we do not accept is criminal activity. What we don't accept is mayhem and people who want to sow chaos in our communities,” DeSantis also said at a press conference on Tuesday. “Make no mistake: if you come here to enjoy Florida and […] have a good time, great. If you come for other reasons, if you commit crimes, if you cause damage, you will pay the price. »

North of Miami, Fort Lauderdale is taking a more welcoming approach as it prepares to beef up its policing. Authorities are distributing naloxone nasal sprays to prevent overdoses as well as tests to tell if a drink has been contaminated.

“We have a well-oiled machine in our city to make this a good experience,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis. “Not just for spring breakers, but for families as well. »

Florida is a very welcoming state, inviting people to come and have fun. What we do not accept is criminal activity.

— Ron DeSantis

For decades, these spring break holidays have been a thorn in the side of Florida cities. Fort Lauderdale officials had already decided in the mid-1980s that they were ready to end the relationship. The party then moved north to Daytona Beach, where MTV followed the festivities for years. The series Girls Gone Wild captured the festivities of Panama City Beach in the early 2000s, much to the chagrin of the destination.

The Daytona Beach tourism bureau now promotes the town as a “family-friendly vacation spot.” Fort Lauderdale has chased away revelers so well that it has become “a kind of ghost town,” according to Mr. Trantalis. “Miami is going through the same experience as Fort Lauderdale 40 years ago,” he analyzed. “It’s basically hitting the reset button, and I think that’s what Miami Beach is trying to do today. »

With school calendars, these holidays are generally predictable. But the popularity of social media as an event planning tool may have caught some cities off guard. This was the case in New Smyrna Beach two years ago, when teenagers from more distant towns unexpectedly invaded the seaside town thanks to Snapchat and TikTok, the police chief said. “It got a little out of control,” Mr. Feldman said. “They were on the roof of the 7-Eleven throwing furniture. »

A temporary curfew for people under 18 became permanent, and Feldman said the city's plan was to “flood this area” with police to deter bad behavior.

“It’s not that we want them to leave town,” he clarified. “We try to continually update the public safety plan to keep them safe. »

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In Walton County, the goal is also to control teenagers vacationing with their families. Last year, large crowds gathered on the beach, said Corey Dobridnia, spokesman for the Walton County Sheriff's Office. The number of deputies on duty in affected areas will be tripled and bicycle and ATV patrols will be implemented to prevent large groups from gathering.

“We will simply try to ensure that the crowds do not have an impact on the quality of life,” she argued.

Panama City Beach, which allows drinking on the shore most of the year, restricted drinking in 2015, Police Chief J. R. Talamantez said.

“We don’t want this atmosphere anymore,” he said. “But we’re realistic. We can send whatever message we want, but we know people will always come in the spring. »

Bars in this northwest Florida city will close earlier this month, and parts of the beach where crowds once gathered will close at night from mid-March to the end of April . In a letter to the community last month, he outlined an eight-point initiative for this year's holiday season.

“We are a city of law and order all year round. March and April are no exception,” he said. “Based on what we’ve seen, it’s really the only strategy that works. »

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116