Up to five more people could be arrested in connection with three robberies that have alarmed residents of Miami Shores and El Portal recently, police said Wednesday.
Police arrested John Beaubrun, 20, on Sept. 4, and charged him with using a credit card stolen during one of the three August incidents.
But at a meeting with about 40 residents on Wednesday, Miami Shores Police Chief Kevin Lystad said investigators are gathering evidence against five other people. He said he hopes to bring the case to federal court for harsher sentencing.
Two of the three robberies were home invasions, in which the robbers accosted a resident outside, then forced him into the house at gunpoint. In the third case, a couple was robbed at gunpoint while sitting in their car in the driveway, with their autistic daughter in the back seat.
On Wednesday, Lystad also discussed crime in the Shores in general.
He said the village had recorded 23 armed robberies so far this year. Last year, the village had the third-lowest rate of armed robberies on record, with 24 incidents for the entire year.
Lystad said criminals target the Shores because it is perceived as an affluent area with more valuable property than other areas. He said that Beaubrun lived in Miami Gardens, and people from as far south as Homestead have been caught stealing in the Shores.
“You see your community. You see that it is nice, you have nice vehicles, nice houses, nice things,” Lystad said. Criminals “come here because we have things worth stealing.”
According to police, many houses in the Shores are older and have doors that swing inward, which are no longer allowed by the building code. In-swing doors are ideal for “kick-in” burglaries because the door can be forced open, making it easier for criminals to enter a home.
While it may appear as though crime is increasing in the Shores, Village Councilwoman Ivonne Ledesma, who organized Wednesday’s meeting, said that the neighborhood averages one home invasion a year, which is the number Miami Shores has experienced this year (the other home invasion that took place last month was in neighboring El Portal).
Lystad also stressed that crime is drastically down compared to previous decades.
Several of the residents expressed concern that many streets throughout Miami Shores are poorly lit because of lack of street lamps or poor maintenance of existing street lights. Village Manager Tom Benton said that the lights are managed by Florida Power & Light (which manages lights in residential areas and alleyways) and Miami-Dade County (which manages lights on major thoroughfares).
Benton says that the village regularly surveys the condition of lights, forward the information to the two agencies, and “constantly” follows up with them about repairs.
However, the time it takes for the agencies to repair the lights varies.
Benton suggested that the village’s rich foliage and large trees are a factor in making the streets darker. He said that many residents do not want their trees trimmed because trees add to the neighborhood’s natural beauty.
Several of the residents commented on the need for the village government to adapt to the 21st century and provide more information that would keep residents safer online through the village’s website as well as social media and e-mail. One resident made pointed remarks about a dated flyer that seem to refer to cell phones as emerging technology while another suggested that updates on social media are infrequent.
“I know it’s lovely living in the village [which feels like] it’s 1950, and we have picket fences, but information needs to be of the 21st century,” said Shores resident Dennis Leyva.
Chief Lystad suggested residents to sign up for Nixle, an online service that allows local residents to receive alerts from the police department via text message, email or by visiting Nixle.com.
Jose Antonio Forment, a Shores resident who was a victim of the spree, expressed concerned that the criminals would return to the family’s home. He said that his daughter, whom he had originally thought was not affected by the crime, is now fearful of being alone.
But Lystad reassured him that it was highly unlikely that the criminals would come back to victimize the same home again and that he had never seen it occur during his time working for the police. He did say that those who had their personal identifications and credit cards stolen may likely fall victim to identity theft over the next few years as their information may be circulated.
Resident David Hunter, who heads a neighborhood watch program for parts of the West Side of Miami Shores, suggested that residents establish their own watch program for their residential block; he said they could do so by naming a block captain to help monitor the street and by keeping in regular communication with their neighbors about suspicious or dangerous activities. Councilwoman Ledesma advised residents this would also help create a better sense of community.
“Our community is pretty big. The more we can bring it together, the more we can watch each other’s back.”
Miami Shores does not participate in Miami-Dade Crime Watch, which would require the village to have a full-time crime-prevention officer.