Spring break wrap: Smaller crowd, same issues

Between 5,000 and 10,000 spring breakers were in Biloxi – primarily on the beachfront in front of the Coast Coliseum – and Police Chief John Miller says the crowd was smaller than early forecasts, but nonetheless prompted police to implement measures to keep traffic moving.

The weekend, which saw the Coliseum host a rap concert Thursday and a rap dance and swimwear show on Saturday afternoon, was marred by a shooting Saturday evening and a car theft that led to a carjacking and pedestrian accident early Sunday morning.

“From the outset we’d hoped everyone would have a good time,” Miller said, “but we also realized that with an event as loosely organized as this and with activities advertised that never materialized, there could be some issues. Our role is to just keep things moving safely and orderly.”

Many left turn lanes and intersections were barricaded on parts of U.S. 90 east and west of the Coliseum as police attempted to keep slow-moving traffic from becoming gridlocked. Breakers gathered near the public parking area and walked along the boardwalk south of the Coliseum.

Police handled a total of 160 spring break-related calls for service – which included 51 traffic stops, 15 parking violations, and 10 traffic accidents. The activities occurred in the area between White Avenue and DeBuys Road in a 16-hour period, from 10 a.m. Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday.

“The numbers were about what you’d expect in a crowd as large as this,” Miller said. “Someone questioned the size of the police presence, but when the shooting took place on Saturday evening, we needed every officer we had to clear the area and close down the public parking spaces. We had a situation where we had a shooter whose motivation was unknown to us, so the safest thing to do was to disperse the crowds, to get everyone out of harm’s way.

“We’re very appreciative of how cooperative everyone was when we had to do that.”

Two events at the Coast Coliseum appeared to be poorly attended: a spring break-themed concert on Thursday attracted only 1,400 people, and few attended the eight-hour event on Saturday that was to include a rap dance and swim wear affair.

Said Miller, “One thing I noticed this year was that there appeared to be more alcohol usage and the breakers appeared to be older. As has been the case historically with spring break events, though, the crowd stayed on Highway 90, either cruising by foot or car. That’s where the focus continues to be.”