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Miami Beach Police Use Pepper Balls, SWAT Teams To Enforce Spring Break Curfew

 An aerial view from Ocean Drive and 8 Street after officers began dispersing crowds Saturday, March 20, 2021 due to the 8 p.m. curfew in the Miami Beach Entertainment District.
An aerial view from Ocean Drive and 8 Street after officers began dispersing crowds Saturday, March 20, 2021 due to the 8 p.m. curfew in the Miami Beach Entertainment District.

Miami Beach officials are extending an emergency 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for at least another week.

Sunday's decision came after SWAT officers in bulletproof vests dispersed pepper spray balls to break up rowdy, spring break crowds that descended on sunny South Beach by the thousands Saturday night.

City officials say large crowds have crammed the beaches, fought in the streets, and refused to wear masks and follow other COVID-19 orders.

The curfew went into effect Saturday, forcing restaurants to stop outdoor seating entirely. Local businesses are urged to voluntarily shut down.

Tourists are also encouraged to stay inside their hotels, while pedestrians and vehicles are not allowed to enter the restricted area after 8 p.m.

At a news conference Saturday afternoon, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said he understands businesses need to make money, but too many people came to town with bad intentions and it's gotten out of control at night.

"We're going obviously to have to always put public safety above all else," he said.

Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements told the Miami Herald that Saturday night’s incident would be reviewed internally. He said officers only fired the tear gas after the crowd began to surge toward them, and they wouldn’t do so just simply to break up a gathering.

“I think officers felt threatened at the time,” said Clements. “There has to be an element there of either the crowd fighting or coming at officers.”

NPR reports that police say they arrested "at least a dozen" people for violating the state of emergency on Saturday night. It's actually fewer arrests than last week, when officers detained nearly 100 people while breaking up spring break crowds. An exact number of arrests isn't expected to be released until Monday.

A countywide midnight curfew is already in place due to COVID-19.

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