Pinecrest police chief starts burglary, traffic units


Heroic mentions

Pinecrest Police Chief Samuel Ceballos Jr. cited several officers for special mention in his annual report:

• On Aug. 16, Officer Craig Harvey saved the life of a Palmetto High School athletic coach, who had cardiac arrhythmia. Harvey used a defibrillator to provide an electric shock to the heart and remained with the coach until Miami-Dade paramedics arrived.

On Sept. 17, Officer Harvey caught a suspect in an armed robbery of the CVS pharmacy at 11299 S. Dixie Hwy.

• On Nov. 8, officers Peter Panagakos, Jason Brown and Lorenzo Hernandez arrested three burglary suspects with “extensive” criminal records.

• On Dec. 12, Hernandez chased a car with three burglary suspects to Palmetto Bay, where police arrested them.

Pinecrest experienced an “alarming” sharp increase in burglaries in 2012, but the village’s police chief said in his report Tuesday that new efforts have shown a decrease this year. Pinecrest also saw a slight increase in robberies and nonviolent thefts.

The village hasn’t had a homicide since 2006. But domestic violence calls went up 100 percent, narcotics violations went up 81 percent, and battery and assault incidents went up 20 percent last year, the chief said in his annual report.

Pinecrest Chief Samuel Ceballos Jr. also had good news. He said that after officers arrested “two groups of career criminals in the last quarter of 2012” there was a 50 percent decrease in burglaries this year. In general, however, crime statistics can fluctuate a great deal from year to year, especially in smaller communities with relatively small numbers.

“The emotional and psychological harm associated with victimization is not something that we take lightly,” Ceballos said at Tuesday’s Village Council meeting. “Our hearts go out to those who have fallen prey to criminals.”

Before becoming Pinecrest’s third police chief in July, Ceballos spent about 12 years with the village and 22 years with Hialeah police. He replaced former chief John Hohensee, who retired in April after 13 years of service.

On Tuesday, council members expressed satisfaction with Ceballos and his department. Dissatisfaction with Miami-Dade police was one of the reasons Pinecrest incorporated in 1996.

“We have heard and read in this report how our police department is growing and is getting more professional,” said Councilman James E. McDonald, a former FBI agent.

Ceballos’ new efforts include setting up a new police unit to focus on burglaries. The unit, he said, “has one main mission. That is detecting, deterring and arresting burglars.”

Ceballos also set up a new traffic unit in November, with four police officers and two fully equipped Harley Davidson motorcycles that cost the city $42,670. This means two officers are looking for traffic violators in the village during the morning and afternoon.

While, Hohensee was not supportive of having an officer working with a multi-agency federal task force, Ceballos is. The financial investment, McDonald said, would eventually pay off when the federal government solves a crime and the value of the seized property related to this crime would be divided among the departments involved.

“It’s time for us to do this,” McDonald said.

After about two years of training, the program would bring in a deputized federal officer to the village. Councilman Bob Ross has firmly opposed this effort, because it would cost the village at least $100,000 a year. The crimes that this officer would be focusing on are not in the village, Ross said, and there is no guarantee that there would eventually be a financial reward that would benefit the village.

The council voted 4-1 to allow the police to participate in the federal task force program.

“Crime doesn’t know boundaries,” Ceballos said. He added that the department has budgeted to hire the new deputized federal officer, and he will promote an officer from within the department, Ceballos said.

Mayor Cindy Lerner supports Ceballos and praised him for his efforts to engage the community of about 18,000 in crime watch groups. She also said Ceballos’ use of technology allows residents to get immediate crime reports via a mobile phone application. The department also has a social media component.

“There are just so many ways that you are trying to make the contact and reach into the community and we are doing a better job,” Lerner said.

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