Miami must prioritize public safety


A government’s most fundamental responsibility is to protect its residents. City of Miami leaders need to accept, prioritize and fund this core principle.

This Thursday, they will have the opportunity to do just that. The City Commission will debate and vote on the coming year’s budget, a key part of which is a proposed $9 million increase to the police department to hire more officers and reduce the unacceptable levels of crime in our community.

Last summer, in response to a sudden crime spike in my Coconut Grove neighborhood, I helped organize a town hall meeting with more than 100 concerned residents asking city leaders how they planned to solve the problem. We were told that one of the key factors was an insufficient number of police officers citywide. You can imagine our frustration this summer, when the neighborhood experienced a 67-percent increase in burglaries — including three on my street — and found the shortage of police officers had still gone unaddressed.

According to FBI statistics, Miami consistently ranks as one of the country’s most crime-plagued cities, surpassing New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Miamians shouldn’t have to live in fear every day of having their home violated or a loved one fall victim to violent crime.

As a community we have to begin to address crime differently, and this starts with a police force with enough manpower to protect and serve us.

How will the $9 million increase to the police department begin to address the city’s crime problem?

First, the Miami Police Department is woefully understaffed. According to the police chief, the manpower of the Miami Police Department lags far behind that of other metropolitan areas. New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Atlanta and even Miami Beach all have at least four officers for every 1,000 residents; while the city of Miami employs just 2.6 officers per 1,000 residents. Part of the $9 million increase will help put 100 more officers on the streets.

Second, the Miami Police Department has a recruitment and retention problem. Miami officers make on average $5,000 to $10,000 less than their counterparts at Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach, Broward County or Fort Lauderdale. Potential new recruits and experienced Miami officers are drawn to other police departments with more attractive compensation packages. The other portion of the $9 million will help bring officers’ salaries more in line with competing jurisdictions.

Miami leaders must find the political will to both put enough officers on the street to secure our neighborhoods and compensate those officers accordingly for the vital role they play in our city. To suggest we cannot do both is a false choice.

Let me be clear, I don’t suggest placing an emphasis on public safety to the detriment of other city functions. Rather, it is vital to prioritize public safety in order to bolster other city functions.

From attracting new businesses and expanding cultural arts offerings to encouraging residents to take part in parks and recreation activities and enjoy this beautiful place we call home, it’s imperative to guarantee a stable, inviting and — above all else — a secure environment. Miami will not fulfill its potential of becoming a truly world-class metropolis if residents and visitors do not feel safe first.

This Thursday, we are counting on Miami’s leaders prioritizing safety and security for their residents by authorizing $9 million to put more officers on the streets and raise their pay — as an overdue step in addressing our crime problem.

Fernand R. Amandi is a Miami resident and the managing partner of Bendixen & Amandi International, a research and communications consulting firm.

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