MIAMI -- For those heading to South Beach this spring for a little fun in the sun, know that the guy with the Boogie Board may not be who he seems; knowledge of the Fourth Amendment might be useful when carrying a cooler; and tossing a cigarette butt on the sand could bring a hefty littering fine.
One year after spring break left memories of trash strewn beaches and stumbling drunk teenagers, police and code enforcement officers are stepping up enforcement by going undercover in beach garb, searching coolers and emphasizing that South Beach is not a doormat.
City records show that two weeks into a special enforcement period ending April 3, police have searched 1,630 coolers -- an act legal only with consent -- issued 273 code violations such as littering, poured out 509 bottles of alcohol and arrested 71 people.
That's in contrast to last year, when dozens of residents publicly chided commissioners and administrators about lax policing and fired off angry e-mails, including one from a resident who said a couple found their way into a South Beach condo building last March and had sex in a hallway. Police were also called to investigate a double-stabbing and a fatal shooting in South Beach.
All that happened during a record-breaking year for Miami tourism and on the heels of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, leading to worries that, left unchecked, the spring break crowd might be bad for business.
"Tourists don't come back after they see us taken over by brats from the mainland," said Frank Del Vecchio, an activist from the South of Fifth neighborhood, which bore the brunt of last year's spring break crowds.
This year, complaints about "drunkenness and rowdiness" started last weekend, according to Steve Mandy, president of the South of Fifth Neighborhood Association. Still, Mandy said, police "are being much more proactive and much more aware."
Commissioner Jerry Libbin, who said last year that the city had failed to enforce its own laws, said the hiring of additional code enforcement officers and the strengthening of littering laws should help police spring break.
"But I don't think it's reasonable to think we'll drop a curtain and all the sudden have a huge impact," he said.
On Friday afternoon, nearly every group of friends relaxing behind Nikki Beach with a cooler said they'd been stopped by officers interested in what they were drinking. Some complained that they were asked three, four and five times to open their coolers.
Charles Granobles, 21, of Kendall, Fla., said he felt uncomfortable with so many officers around.
But not too uncomfortable. After an officer told him to get rid of the beer on his way to the beach, he and four friends put it in his backpack and brought it anyway.
"I'm just here in the sun enjoying myself with friends," he said.
Several high school students from John A. Ferguson Senior High said they were approached four times by police about their cooler. They felt compelled to pour out their liquor -- into a large plastic cup.
Hilda Fernandez, an assistant city manager, acknowledged that litter and underage drinking are again an issue. However, she said residents need to be reasonable with their expectations, noting that one Del Vecchio e-mail included pictures of "innocuous" behavior, such as teenagers walking down the street to the beach.
But the fact that spring breakers are often teenagers is part of the issue. Mandy, Del Vecchio and others say they are mostly day trippers whose spending is limited to paying for parking.
"It's a big free party, and they're buying their stuff in Costco and they're bringing it over here," he said.
South of Fifth resident and former Commissioner Victor Diaz, Jr., a vocal critic of the city's handling of spring break last year, said targeting high school and college students on the beach shouldn't be perceived as an age issue.
"Absolutely we've got to be self-aware that we're just not discriminating against a certain crowd, but it doesn't matter whether you're rich or poor," he said. "What matters is are you polite and respectful to the beach and the community? There tends to be a correlation between adults engaging in adult behavior and people who are juveniles and engaging in juvenile behavior."
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