2 arrested in Hollywood Beach, Florida, shooting. Businesses say security a growing concern

Tribune Content Agency

MIAMI — The morning after a mass shooting, tourists and locals were back on the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk, rollerblading, jogging or enjoying breakfast al fresco.

But there was a scrum of police officers on the scene — and an even larger crowd of TV cameras and reporters — and the scary shooting was still on the minds of everyone, including business owners who have long expressed concerns about security along the eclectic, once laid-back beachfront.

Nine people, including four children, were shot Monday after police said a dispute between two groups escalated to gunfire on the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk — prompting thousands of Memorial Day beachgoers to scatter and duck for cover. Hollywood police on Tuesday announced the arrest of two individuals on gun charges in connection to the mass shooting — but it wasn’t immediately clear if they were the suspected shooters. Three others were also being sought.

At the Broadwalk Restaurant, a few shops over from the scene of the shooting, tourist Tim Austin and his family told their waitresses what they saw the night before when their evening walk was interrupted by gunfire.

“We thought it was fireworks at first,” said Austin, a 34-year-old renovation specialist on a family vacation. “We ran, took cover.”

Then, Austin and his brother, a former soldier and Marine, rushed over to help the wounded and found three women injured and a 15-year-old boy shot in the chest. Austin was about to use his belt as a tourniquet when the police and medics showed up.

“It just reassures you that nowhere is really safe,” he said. “We bring our families here. We want to have a good time and be safe.”

A sparse police presence?

Hollywood mayor Josh Levy during a press conference Monday night noted that there were “dozens” of officers on patrol. But residents and business owners told a different story.

Of the nearly dozen employees and business owners the Herald spoke to, all mentioned an increase in rowdy customers and a sparse police presence at night. One waitress at a popular bar said the crowds are usually fine during the day. At night, it’s the drunk patrons that “cause problems.”

“If we had more cops around, that would help,” the waitress said.

A kiosk worker slinging late-night food echoed that concern: “Sometimes you need a cop and you just can’t find one.”

Many business owners told the Miami Herald that they had spoken with city officials and police numerous times over the past year to warn them that there aren’t enough officers to handle the crowds migrating to Hollywood from Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, where police have cracked down on unruly crowds.

The Miami Herald reached out to Levy and other Hollywood officials but hasn’t received a response as of 2:30 p.m.

Workers present at the time of the shooting said they saw very few police officers near the sprawling Margaritaville resort complex on Monday when the shots rang out during the evening dinner rush as thousands of people strolled along the beach and Broadwalk. Margaritaville has even resorted to hiring off-duty police to help control crowds at the Bandshell after residents complained about trash and drunk people vomiting and passing out near the resort.

“No cops, there were just no cops around until after the shooting happened,” said a bartender who worked Monday. “We heard the shots and everyone ran. We were all scared. We shut our doors.”

At Nick’s Bar and Grill, the beach’s most iconic restaurant, owner Bob Ferro said he and other long-time business owners noticed changes and larger, rowdier crowds after the pandemic.

“Instead of going to South Beach where there’s so many police, the crowd found a new place to come to party,” Ferro said. “It’s all over the news every day, the reports say ‘Don’t go to South Beach.’ South Beach got fed up with it and so now we are having the problem here.”

Ferro, who has owned the bar for 43 years, said Hollywood has been a family-friendly beach town for decades, a place where parents could have a dinner and drinks while letting their children run free on the beach without worry. But over the years, he’s noticed less police patrolling the area.

“You never see them,” Ferro said. “Years ago, we had the old-time cops. They would come by and check on us, but there’s none of that anymore. All those guys retired. This is a wake-up call.”

Other restaurant managers said they’ve been frustrated that their warnings have been largely ignored.

“We’ve been saying this is bad for a long time,” a long-time restaurant manager said. “Frankly, the city is lucky it wasn’t worse than it was.”

“The truth of the matter is this is a major failure on the part of the city.”