A Miami police officer has guarded a private Wynwood art gallery since early December, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide visibility and scare away the bad guys.
The cost to the gallery owner: Nothing.
Gary Nader, who owns the Gary Nader Fine Art Gallery at 62 NE 27th St., asked for the special service to protect an exhibit of 110 works of art valued at $500 million. The exhibit is on loan from a private collector in Portugal.
Mayor Tomás Regalado and Police Chief Manuel Orosa say they agreed to provide the no-cost protection because the gallery is free and open to the public. They say they want local students to see the works by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, among other world-renowned artists.
If something happens to that art collection, its going to be, Where were the police? Orosa said during last weeks City Commission meeting. Its a [$500] million art collection, never before seen in the Western Hemisphere, and I provided security, one person, off and on, to that particular art gallery, as part of a free exhibit of a museum-quality art collection.
According to Nader, an officer sits outside his gallery in a patrol car 24 hours a day and will remain there until the exhibit ends in mid-April. Normally, it costs businesses $32 per hour to hire an off-duty officer, which would total more than $20,000 per month for 24-hour protection.
It was a gentlemens agreement, said Nader. This exhibit would not be here without the help of the mayor and the police chief. They understand the importance of art for a city.
Nader said that by the time exhibit is over, he will have spent about $2 million for the shipping, insurance and private security guards inside the gallery in order to display the works of art from the private collection of his friend, José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo.
Some have questioned the decision to assign a beat officer to a single business while other Miami officers are assigned to entire areas, such as Bayside and Mary Brickell Village.
Among the critics is William Braemer, who said he would love to have a police officer sit outside his Art Fusion Galleries in Wynwood.
Id like to have the same connections that Nader has with the city, said Braemer. I also open my doors to groups of students.
That the city would pay an officer to do this surprised the family of a teenager who was shot while riding his bicycle Dec. 19 three blocks away from Naders gallery.
What about my son? asked Catherine Beaton, mother of 15-year-old Aaron Willis, who is now paralyzed. His life and his future are more valuable than these paintings.
At all times, at least five other officers patrol the streets of Wynwood, Orosa wrote in an email to El Nuevo Herald. He added that if he could guarantee that the officer assigned to the gallery would have been able to prevent the shooting had he been on patrol, he would have placed him at the scene without hesitation.
Unfortunately, however, I do not have such predictive puissance, he wrote.
As part of the departments duty to protect life and property, Orosa said, officers are routinely assigned to public events.
Mr. Naders gallery met the same threshold in that it was an exhibit open to the public at no charge, he said. I ask that anyone who would criticize my position think about the long-lasting effects of a theft of or vandalism to a $500 million exhibit in our burgeoning art district.
Nader said he is coordinating visits of local students to see the exhibit, which takes up a portion of the gallerys second floor. The rest of the building is mostly devoted to Naders private collection, although he does sell pieces valued between $200,000 and $10 million.
The daily presence of an on-duty police officer in the gallerys parking lot was first reported in December by blogger Al Crespo. Following up on a request from Crespo, City Commissioner Francis Suarez asked Orosa about the issue at last Thursdays commission meeting.
I dont know whats happening, and it was a legitimate question that was posed to me, Suarez said. Whenever a citizen or resident or someone who cares about our government has a concern that . . .
Orosa interrupted: Or a convicted felon.
For several seconds, there was silence in the commission chambers. During the 1960s and 1970s, Crespo spent 20 years in prison for robbing banks. Now, the 71-year-old blogs about problems in the citys government, routinely targeting city leaders such as Regalado, Orosa and Suarez.
Finally, Suarez said: Listen, when you get a public-records request, I dont think you treat anyone differently, right?
The chief responded that the departments attorneys deal with such requests.
On Tuesday, Regalado said he thought it was a fair use of city funds to provide special police attention to the art gallery, especially because school groups can visit for free.
And that collection would be so tempting for criminals, he added. Ive been worried since Day One that something would happen, which would be catastrophic for the citys image.
Nader said the city was right to provide the free protection.
The cost of maintaining a police officer outside is minimal when compared to the hundreds of hours Ive spent to bring the collection here, Nader said. This is my gift to Miami for supporting me for 30 years and helping me become the most important art collector in the city.
The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.