By MARK SAMUELIAN AND ALEX R. PIQUERO
Much has been made about Miami Beach’s spring break experience, especially in 2021, and residents are outraged. Even though we are amid a pandemic with curfews, that did not stop thousands of people from converging on our region to take a break from their lives — many attracted by an anything-goes perception.
The problem, of course, was not just the much larger crowds concentrated in a very small geographic area. It was also the chaotic scenes, fights, stampedes, arrests and crimes that emerged. Indeed, during the period February 3-April 5, 2021 there were over 1,300 arrests in Miami Beach with 58% made in the entertainment-heavy Art Deco Cultural District. Most people do not come to Miami Beach with nefarious intentions, so blaming people is not the solution. As lessons from criminological research shows, we can address crime by altering the situation.
One of those solutions involves stopping the sale of alcohol earlier, such as the 2 a.m. proposal by Mayor Dan Gelber. This is a good first step of a comprehensive program, one focused on public safety as its primary rationale, and here’s why.
First, when we compare Miami Beach to other cities and locations with entertainment districts that closely abut residences, the majority of dining and entertainment establishments do not stay open and serving alcohol until 5 a.m. This includes a long list of cities, like San Antonio, Texas, and even some in Florida, like Tampa. Right now, Miami Beach operates more like Las Vegas than anyplace else.
Second, criminological research shows that a combination of too much alcohol and late-night activities act as crime generators and attractors. Lessons learned from various studies confirm that extending closing hours is associated with increases in crime, including DUIs and DWIs, while rolling back closing hours is associated with less crime. The bottom line: Limiting alcohol sales relates to lower crime.
Third, the world of professional sports has also successfully implemented alcohol restrictions. Many Major League Baseball teams, including the Miami Marlins, end alcohol sales at the end of the seventh inning. As well, many NFL teams, including the Miami Dolphins, end in the third quarter. The research is clear: Limiting sales in this manner has been found to be related to less crime, including driving while intoxicated and aggravated assault.
Finally, savvy business leaders recognize that in the medium- and long-term, this change will likely have a positive financial impact. Many of the trouble-making visitors were not patronizing businesses, and the resulting images have certainly not been helpful to the city’s brand. At the same time, reduced alcohol hours will lessen overtime demands on the Miami Beach Police Department and its partner agencies improving the financial equation for the city, which is currently operating at an estimated $6 million deficit in the Art Deco Cultural District.
We are mindful of that fact that businesses have been hurt during the past year. Jobs lost, profits gone unrealized — a world turned upside down. The proposed solution is a good first step, but it is not the last. Miami Beach can and should study the public safety and economic impacts of this strategy. If it does not work as planned, then let’s try something else. Perfection should not be the enemy of the good. This is a good lesson to remember as we all seek to welcome our visitors and ensure that they have a pleasant and safe experience, while also making certain that our residents continue to be happy and secure in the place they chose to call home.
Mark Samuelian is a Miami Beach city commissioner, and Alex R. Piquero is chair of sociology and arts & sciences distinguished scholar at the University of Miami.