Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert has national ambitions for his city. He was recently named President of the African American Mayors Association and took part in the U.S. Conference of Mayors earlier this summer.
Gilbert says the key to improving race relations between police officers and the community starts with engaging youth. He supports the idea of community policing and opening police academies for kids to meet police officers.
“The way you address violence long term is by accessing it early,” Gilbert said.
He joined Sundial to talk about his city and efforts to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
WLRN: What kind of change did you want to affect here?
Gilbert: A lot of times you have these people that run for office and they talk about this one issue. People then get excited about one issue. For example, if you or your family have been a victim of a crime--that is the most important; if you're looking for job employment--that is most important; if you suffer from chronic illness--health care is most important, but the truth is that on a municipal level it all kind of works together.
In a recent study, the ACLU and the University of Miami reported on large racial disparities in Miami-Dade County when it comes to arrest rates and prison sentencing. How are you working to address this issue?
We are working in a partnership with the State Attorneys Office in a program for college students about minor crimes. It would focus on more policing resources on violent criminals and crimes with victims as opposed to a victimless crime. I don't really want to take a kid to jail for something minor. I don't see the point of it. I don't see that as a law enforcement priority. We're going to take these kids who want to be police officers in Miami Gardens, who live in Miami Gardens, who were born and raised in Miami Gardens, and we're going to send them to the police academy. People said I was being naive when it first started. I think we're on our fifth or sixth class now.
We had a case where there was a former police chief that got in trouble because there were accusations that he was arresting black kids and trying to pin crimes on them. How would you change the culture of the police department?
I think that goes back to what I talked about with the police academy and also how we select police officers. A lot of times people think you can change a culture, but the truth is cultures are things that kind of evolve naturally. You don't change culture like turning a car at a 90-degree angle, you change it by making course corrections, doing it constantly and supporting good behavior. You address, train or punish bad behavior. People talk about community policing and I love the idea of community policing but I think fully incorporating the police in is by being able to get people who live in a city to actually allow them to be police officers in the city. I think that's a seminal part because long-term that will make a difference.