Miami Beach calling out more police to secure South Beach
Miami Beach has asked its police department to reassign more officers to South Beach as officials seek a unified approach to solving policing shortages in that high-visibility, rising-crime area.
In a special commission meeting last week, City Manager Alina Hudak outlined the need for South Beach to enhance policing strategy to mitigate crime, including getting ahead of the retirement curve of officers and hiring more of them as the training and screening period permits, and revising off-duty programs.
“It has become a high-impact period every weekend… and any given day we’re not at our full capacity,” she said. “I believe very strongly that anything and everything that we have to do, relatively to our city services and our capabilities and our ability to change what’s happening, has to be comprehensive.”
Commissioner Steven Meiner told the meeting that residents have been raising the alarm that they are changing their routines and lifestyle “because of the sense of not feeling safe.”
“We can’t go out and hire 25 to 50 officers at the snap of our fingers,” he added. “But I firmly believe that zero tolerance and high-level police visibility will absolutely make a dent in what we’re seeing right now and the extent to which we can get assistance from any law enforcement would be a tremendous help.”
However, Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Martinez disagreed with a stance of zero tolerance.
“If you take zero tolerance you will lose the community, you’ll put the police officers in a bad position and you will not get anything done,” he said, “It is with strategies of high visibility, dialogue, quality of life issues, strategic enforcement and communication among other departments in the community that you will curb the violence.”
In any crime plan the city comes up with, Mr. Martinez explained, “you cannot cause a lack of distrust with the community. Whatever plan is developed has make sure that the community is safe, and no one is singled out.”
The Miami-Dade Police Department has been working with the City of Miami in developing a plan that, according to Mr. Martinez, made nearly 1,500 arrests, taking about 700 firearms off the streets, including in Miami Beach and other cities.
“Murder rates have gone down,” he said, “and it was said that this summer was going to be a bloody summer. That did not happen. In Miami-Dade right now there are 67 murders… mostly domestic and targeted gun violence.”
The county police department will provide 10 additional police officers Fridays and 10 others on Sundays until December. But Mr. Martinez said giving the city 100 officers every weekend is not possible, unless the city had “a real immediate emergency.”
“I have asked [the Miami Beach Police Chief] and he has come back with a plan that reassigns an average of 40 officers depending on the time of day and the time of the week to our streets,” said Ms. Hudak. “I ask and direct our police chief to look at our capacity, to look at our current situation. I’ve asked all of our departments to partner in a unified way and work side by side with our officers to report on our additional resources that I’ve asked to elevate enforcement to another level.”
This includes the code compliance department, the fire department, housing and community service department and the homeless outreach team, said Ms. Hudak, all of which will be meeting every Monday morning at her office to review the results of the week “and discuss ideas and evolution of what else can we possibly do.”
“I’ve also asked all of the departments to accelerate any hiring even though we don’t hire until our budgets are reviewed on Oct. 1,” Ms. Hudak told the commission. “I’m not waiting until Oct. 1, respectfully. I have asked everyone to start the recruitment process immediately. I believe I have your support.”
“My staff is here today because we’re concerned and we want to come up with the best solutions available to be able to turn the perception around, not the effort,” said Miami Beach Chief of Police Richard M. Clements. “Because the effort has always been there. What I ask is a little bit of time to be able to fill those vacancies, because we can’t get people trained quickly enough. But we’re working on that and over the last two months we’ve hired 21 people. We get one officer out of 10 applicants to meet our criteria.”
Another problem contributing to the ongoing crime scene in South Beach is large-group parties in short-term rentals, said Commissioner Michael Gongora. “While hotels do a better job policing their own occupancy restrictions, the short-term rentals seem to be a free-for-all.”
Mr. Gongora presented the South Beach and Fifth Street Resolution item, and he questioned whether having Ocean Drive completely open to traffic was contributing to the problem of crime.
“It gave pedestrians a space to congregate and business an opportunity to have outside seating during the pandemic,” he said. “But it’s created a void on the streets. Police unions sent us a message saying they think it’s bad. Ambulances can’t get through if there is a serious situation.”
Commissioner Mark Samuelian added that the city should also analyze South Beach business models. “We have noise violations, we have code violations, parking… [people are] smoking marijuana on public property,” he said. “That has to stop.”
He asked the city to carefully scrutinize every business as it renews its business permit.
The city should, by year’s end, have a better understanding of how these new approaches have worked, Ms. Hudak said.
“When people are changing their routines, when we have residents telling us over and over again that their life has been upended because of what’s going on,” Mr. Meiner said, “we have to listen.”