Miami Beach Police Chief Talks Hate Crimes And Safe Schools

Jul 18, 2018

On July 13, Walter Edward Stolper, a Nazi sympathizer, was caught in the act of pouring gasoline around his Miami Beach condo unit with the intent of igniting it. He was originally charged with attempted arson, but that was elevated to attempted murder. Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates says the case is likely to be considered a hate crime.

"[Stolper's] got two very powerful prosecution teams, the state and the feds looking at him," Oates said Wednesday on Sundial. "And again we avoided a tragedy because someone heard something and alerted law enforcement." 

On the show, Oates also talked about protecting schools. 

Walter Edward Stolper told one witness he wanted to kill the Jews in his building.
Credit Miami Herald

WLRN: It seems like it has been increasing, hate crimes, anti-Semitic comments and crimes. In the short time you've been in your position what kind of things have you seen?

Oates: Well, Miami Beach is a very diverse community with a couple of traditional groups that are targeted for this kind of behavior. We have a very vibrant and active LGBTQ community; a very active and vibrant and important Jewish community. And those are traditionally among the groups that often get most targeted. So there's a particular awareness on Miami Beach, not only in law enforcement but the entire community for the need to be on top of these issues, to address this kind of behavior when it occurs. The appearance of a swastika somewhere in the public space in Miami Beach is a very big deal. And we bring a lot of resources to bear because we want to send the message that we won't tolerate hate or any symbols or hate or any suggestion of hate.

You caught this guy in the act. He's sitting here pouring gasoline and probably about to set off the explosive material that he had. Do we know the scope of the damage that he could have caused with what he had?

Well, among the things he did is he had a plan and had executed some steps to disable fire systems within the building too. So all indications are he truly intended to set the building on fire. And it would have done terrible harm. It's a 20 story building, hundreds of residents, clearly there would have been tragic consequences. So again the message is when you see something that isn't right in your community in this day and age something that makes you feel uneasy, the most important thing to do in this day and age is alert law enforcement.

Your department and the Miami Dade school district have an agreement: you're going to have one armed officer at a number of different elementary middle schools in Miami Beach, they're going to be acting as resource officers. Tell us a little bit about that arrangement. 

We're the first in the county that's committing to cover every one of our public schools. And it's a leap of faith by our elected officials and our taxpayers. There's a hope that down the road funding will come to us. Those are considerations that are underway by the school board and the state as to how additional funding can be moved forward.

Miami-Dade schools want a cop at every campus. Miami Beach PD will be the first to do it.

And let me clear this, is that every school in Miami Beach?

We have six public schools, we have a high school, we have a K through 8, we have a middle school, and we have three elementary schools. So every one of the schools will have a Miami Beach police officer beginning when the term opens. I think it's like August 20th. And this is with the understanding and permission of the school board because they have primary jurisdiction through their police department, and we're working out the details including specialized training for the school resource officers because it's very different kind of policing to police in a school.

This is on the city for now, in hopes that later the school board will pay you back.

Correct. Our taxpayers and our elected officials are basically fronting about $1 million to do this. And the hope is that eventually it will be worked out where some portion of that cost will be recovered because the state and the county have this as a priority.

How different is it from what they're already doing?

To be a school resource officers is to patrol and police a very, very different community. As a parent, we want our kids, if they're going to make mistakes ... we want them to make it within the four walls of the school. So it's a different level of tolerance with regard to behavior. Best example: when we first talked about this, the chief of Miami Dade school said, 'you know, the theft of a cell phone is technically a felony in this state.' OK. But in the high school environment some child may take a phone from another kid for reasons that are adolescent reasons, that aren't really about permanently depriving that kid of the phone. We don't want to be charging the kid for a felony if he makes that kind of mistake inside the four walls of the school. We want the parent involved, the administration involved, we want it to turn into a teaching moment and a learning moment for that child rather than a criminal prosecution. So it takes a special kind of police officer with a special perspective on the law. It's a specialized kind of view of the world. We want to avoid the classic term educators use -- the school to jail pipeline. We don't want that. I've supervised SROs, school resource officers in two other jurisdictions where I've been a police chief. And you have to find that balance and you have to work very closely with school administration and parents to find that right balance.