The perception that Coral Gables is in the grip of a crime wave is inaccurate, acting police chief Scott Masington told the City Commission on Tuesday.
“Coral Gables is a safe place,” the chief said. He appeared at the request of outgoing commissioners Ralph Cabrera and Maria Anderson, in response to some residents’
concerns that crime, in particular home burglaries, have spiked.
“We want people to come enjoy their experiences here, and they can come to Coral Gables and walk down the streets and know their risks are extremely low,” Masington said.
But the commissioners both expressed alarm after speaking with residents.
“Here’s the bottom line,” Cabrera began. “I have now been serving for 12 years and in all these 12 years I have never received the number of inquiries and concerns I’ve received regarding crime. I’m well aware of property crime. The concern I have this afternoon is that that same property crime can turn into violent crime quickly. This is not campaign related,” he said, referring to the fact he is running for mayor against incumbent Mayor Jim Cason in April.
Anderson, who is also term-limited, but not running for another seat, added: “This is not about walking down the street. It’s burglaries. Invasion of homes. People never feel safe again, and people feel they are being watched and this goes to the fact people that people are scared.”
Masington acknowledged that he, too, has been receiving a greater than usual number of emails from residents expressing concern over crime. “I can’t put my finger on why that is,” he said.
Indeed, crime figures in Coral Gables are down over the last five years according to Police Department’s statistics. Robberies, for instance, peaked at 71 in 2007, fell to 33 last year and through Nov. 30 there have been 28 in the city. Robbery is a violent crime in which the criminal takes property directly from a person by threats or use of force. Burglary, in contrast, means the act of breaking into a home to commit a crime such as theft.
Residential burglaries, “the hottest topic people are concerned about,” Masington said, “have been on a decline for month after month.”
The number of residential burglaries peaked in June at about 40 and has declined steadily since, falling to fewer than 20 in November, the lowest number since June 2008.
“My goal is to show you there is no cause for alarm,” Masington said. “There is nothing showing us any risk out of the ordinary that people should be concerned about. I care about the people in this city and about their emotions. No one wants to see crime end more than we do, and we are making every effort we can so that they can live in a world where they feel comfortable.”
Cabrera expressed concern, nonetheless.
“The point here is I wasn’t elected by statistics. People elected me and the same people that elected me are fearful,” he said.
City Manager Pat Salerno, mindful of the statistics, countered: “To use scare tactics for any sort of gain is not, in my opinion, being a good public servant.”
Cason also expressed frustration during the meeting, noting that the numbers are down considerably, but that people still seem worried.
Masington said officials need to better communicate the message that Coral Gables is a safe city.
“What I’m hearing is a breakdown in communication. My goal is a safe community. Let’s reinforce that dialog.”
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