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New Anti-Gun Violence Plan Increases Youth Programs, Beefs Up Policing In Miami-Dade

Miami-Dade police officers stand at a crime scene
Daniel A. Varela
Miami Herald
Miami-Dade Police officers and detectives gather outside the Shell gas station near the crime-scene after another Miami-Dade mass shooting and a possibly connected car crash killed three people and sent five or six others to the hospital with gunshot wounds, around Grand Salon Reception Hall at Southwest 104th Street and 109th Court in the Kendall neighborhood of Miami, Florida, on Sunday, June 6, 2021.

A long-term plan focuses on anti-poverty measures and a short-term plan addresses gun violence by a mix of increased surveillance, visibility and enforcement priorities for the police.

After a recent wave of high-profile gun violence across Miami-Dade County, the Miami-Dade commissioners unanimously approved a long-term plan to address the issue.

And on a separate track, the Miami-Dade Police Department is taking steps to dramatically increase community surveillance, police visibility and code enforcement across the county with hopes that it will have a more immediate effect on stopping the violence.

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The long-term plan, called the “Peace and Prosperity Plan” will include expanded fellowships and intern programs for young people who are already involved with the criminal justice system. Up to 350 youths will be able to participate in a paid summer jobs program through the county parks department starting this month, to the tune of a little more than $1 million.

Next summer, up to 500 young people will be able to participate — that initiative will cost about $3.8 million. The youth will also receive direct contact with social services and mentoring programs while participating.

“I think it makes a big difference in their outlook in the community, what they're able to do with the income that they have within their community and the other decision making moving forward,” said Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who sponsored the plan. “This is a program that could affect and will affect children all over Miami-Dade County.”

Additional funds are being allocated to Miami-Dade Police Department’s Athletic League program, a youth program, and other programs aimed at connecting with teenagers with the goal of deterring them from crime.

The total cost of running the plan for the first two years is about $7.7 million. The money comes from a $90 million deal the county reached for the naming rights for FTX Arena, formerly known as AmericanAirlines Arena.

The long-term youth plan was being worked on before two back-to-back weekends saw mass shootings from the northern tip to the southern end of the county.

"It's — get to them before they are the problem. That's what we're dealing with now," said commission chairman Jose "Pepe" Diaz. "There is no perfect solution, there is no crystal ball to this. We are trying the best we can through every venue and avenue we can look at."

In addition to the youth-focused part of the plan, the Miami-Dade Police Department is aiming to increase its footprint in the community and step up enforcement efforts in high-crime areas, in coordination with municipal police departments, in a plan the county is calling "Operation Summer Heat."

“We're in the process of deploying 190 fixed license-plate readers across the county,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

The administration is also working to expedite the purchase of 50 additional license plate readers, ten of which will be solar powered.

Money from the federal American Rescue Plan will be used to expand ShotSpotter technology that alerts police to possible gunshot incidents. County police have expanded expanded DUI checkpoints, “probation spot checks” and code enforcement crackdowns for “unlawful parties that attract large crowds,” said Mayor Levine Cava.

“We're going to shut down all the businesses that we find that are operating illegally,” she said. “Some of the violence is taking place in these venues.”

The county has already deemed El Mula Banquet Hall in northwest Miami-Dade — the site of a mass shooting over Memorial Day weekend — an “unsafe structure” and shut down electricity, effectively closing the business. Commissioners previously expressed concern that the banquet hall was operating as an illegal nightclub.

Within the first weekend of cracking down on code violators and illegal parties, Levine Cava said 150 total felony arrests were made, and 63 firearms were taken off the street.

Transforming A Culture

An increased police presence is rubbing some in the community in the wrong way, with fears about the rippling effects of over policing.

“What I’m seeing right now, to be very direct, is mirroring what Black America [saw] under the Bill Clinton administration,” said Brother Lyle Muhammad, the executive director of Circle of Brotherhood, a Brownsville-based nonprofit that aims at stemming gun violence in the Black community.

In response to a high crime rate, the Clinton administration supported increased policing and mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes, leading to higher rates of incarceration and secondary problems in the community due to the overrepresentation of Black Americans in the criminal justice system.

“He later apologized for it,” said Muhammad, referring to President Clinton. “You do not prevent gun violence with police presence. You have to allow and understand what needs to be done to transform a culture.”

On the long-term "Peace and Prosperity Plan," Muhammad said he does support aspects that bring more services and anti-poverty measures to struggling communities.

Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said the current violent crime wave is unlike anything Miami-Dade County has seen before.

What you're seeing is a tsunami reaction from the COVID, the reopening. Our youth [are] coming out with a lot of angst into our community, opening up like the 'Roaring Twenties.' There's a lot of fertile ground to do criminal activity,” he said. “There are businesses that are taking advantage to recoup from the money that they lost and COVID to modify their business portfolio to turn a restaurant into a nighttime makeshift club for youth.”

The department is stepping up monitoring of social media at their Real Time Crime Center facility in order to keep tabs on simmering beefs before they lead to physical violence. But even that approach has limits, said Ramirez.

As an example, he said his department learned about what led to a mass shooting last weekend outside of a hookah bar lounge near the Miami-Dade College Kendall Campus, in which Miami-Dade Corrections officer Tyleisha Taylor was killed, along with two others. Five more were injured.

Ramirez said he was unable to share too many of the details because of an ongoing investigation, but described it as the "most stupidest, ridiculous thing” that would typically result in a shoving match or, at worst, a fistfight.

“But no, this issue that came up with the social media was resolved with assault rifles, handguns. A coordinated attack from one part of the county to go all the way there to make a point to innocent people,” he said. “Think about that. How do you police that? That's why there has to be so many multi-pronged approaches. There has to be strategic enforcement. We have to get to our youth so they don't make those stupid decisions.”

Miami-Dade police have arrested three teenagers in a separate shooting on the Florida Turnpike believed to be connected to the shooting outside the hookah bar. The teens are facing charges of attempted murder for that incident, but have not been charged for the murders.

The "Peace and Prosperity Plan" also contains $300,000 in developing a program called "Project Green Light," which consists of incentivizing business owners to set up high-definition cameras that stream directly into the police department. Police would be able to monitor the cameras in real time. A similar effort in Detroit reduced crime by 40%, according to the plan.

The current violent crime wave in Miami-Dade is part of a national trend that started in the first quarter of 2020, just as COVID-19 lockdowns started to go into effect, said Alex Piquero, chair of the department of sociology and criminology at the University of Miami. He helped develop the "Peace and Prosperity Plan" as a consultant.

“What we're seeing now in Miami is is endemic to what's happening around the country,” said Piquero. “It's not just homicides. It's aggravated assault, domestic violence and homicide. Property crimes are actually going down and have been going down since the lockdowns happened. The easing of restrictions has gone up, but violence is still increasing.”

As a criminologist and a sociologist, Piquero said the impact of the pandemic on violent crime is poorly understood from a historical perspective because “we haven't had something like COVID to compare that to.”

But Piquero said there is a clear consensus that policing alone cannot solve the problem. He said it’s best to think of it in terms of someone trying to lose weight.

It's not just dieting, it's also exercise that both of those things work together. You can't just do one or the other,” said Piquero. “I think that that's the most effective way to think about this.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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