Curfews, checkpoints, mounted patrols: Miami, Florida cities brace for spring break 2024

Curfews, checkpoints, mounted patrols: Miami, Florida cities brace for spring break 2024

Miami Beach is 'breaking up' with spring break after a deadly shooting in the crowds in 2023. Fort Lauderdale, decades past its party crowds, is 'embracing' spring breakers, but with rules in place.

Florida's "cold" weather is heating up just as schools let out on vacation, and spring breakers will soon be flocking to the Sunshine State.

Popular destinations see people head to the beaches in droves, prompting seasonal restrictions for crowd control, many of which went into effect Friday.

But while Fort Lauderdale is welcoming "organized fun," Miami Beach wants to "break up" with spring break. Last year, back-to-back shootings left two dead and brought unruly crowds to the streets prompting a state of emergency.

Around the state, whether March tourists are a welcome sight or dreaded for emergency officials, are bracing for what's to come.

In 2021, Miami Beach made more than 1,000 arrests amongst spring breakers, leading them to issue an emergency curfew. In 2022, two shootings injured five people, leading to another curfew. Last year, the Miami Beach Police Department said it conducted 488 arrests, impounded 105 firearms and issued 7,190 traffic citations, between Feb. 27 and March 27.

This year, they said enough is enough.

The city is imposing additional security every Thursday through Sunday in March, limiting beach access and closing liquor stores early.

For March 7 through 10, and March 14 through 17, the city will close parking garages in South Beach altogether.

"We're breaking up with spring break," the Miami Beach website states. "Expect curfews, security searches and bag checks at beach access points, early beach entrance closures, DUI checkpoints, bumper-to-bumper traffic, road closures and arrests for drug possession and violence."

Contrary to Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told USA TODAY the city is "embracing" spring break, welcoming tourists to enjoy the entertainment, beaches and restaurants.

But the city's relationship with the holiday wasn't always so harmonious. Trantalis said in the 1970s and 1980s, spring breakers came in hundreds of thousands, overwhelming the city.

"We had no rules in place and and it really wreaked havoc on our community to the point where it was driving away other visitors and certainly gave investors pause," he said.

That chaos led Fort Lauderdale to do the same thing in the early 1980s that Miami Beach is doing this year, he said. Over time, the crowds stopped coming in such large numbers, and restrictions, like closing the beach at 5:30 p.m. and mounted patrol on the beach, help to keep things under control these days, the mayor said.

"We understand that spring break often brings young people who who are looking to have a good time," Trantalis said. "As long as you know, they maintain a conduct that you know doesn't destroy property...we feel that spring break is is a welcome opportunity for Fort Lauderdale to host."

Daytona Beach has been known for decades as a destination for spring break partiers, but tourist companies say the crowds have become more family-centric. Some of that young energy may have headed south to New Smyrna Beach, where local police have imposed youth curfews for the last couple of years.

While the Key West Police Department is increasing police presence with their mounted unit and patrol to enforce laws against drinking alcohol on the beach, spokesperson Alyson Crean said they don't put any new rules in place for spring break.

"Key West does see its share of spring breakers, but nothing like other Florida areas" Crean said.

Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden warned spring breakers that they would uphold the law in the Panhandle.

"We don't want to arrest young people," Aden told Northwest Florida Daily News, part of the USA TODAY Network, in an interview. "We want them to come here, we want them to celebrate responsibly, but we also want to set that litmus test and get it out there that they know that there's a zero-tolerance (policy), and that's pretty much across the entire Emerald Coast, from Panama City to Orange Beach.'