Miami Gardens residents vent over police problems

A packed and vocal crowd filled North Dade Regional Library in Miami Gardens on Tuesday for a meeting on how the city and its police department could improve their relationship.

The meeting, co-hosted by city leadership and the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board, began with plenty of rhetoric about plans and initiatives to build trust.

The crowd, at times rowdy, burst into applause after Edward Shohat, CRB board member and lawyer, talked about the allegations against police in the 207 Quickstop convenience store case and about “probable cause” for police arrests.

“Being black in a car at 3 o’clock in the morning is not probable cause, and being at a Quick Stop with an open beer can is not probable cause,” said Shohat.

Interim Chief Paul Miller did not comment directly on the case or the ongoing internal affairs investigation.

“If at any time at the conclusion of this we find that there was any wrongdoing or any merit to these allegations, actions will be taken in conjunction with the City Manager’s office,” said Miller.

Panelists said many problems in Miami Gardens come from a lack of cooperation with police investigations.

The city had 110 non-fatal shootings last year, said Don Horn, of the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office.

“As horrible as the crimes may be, without evidence we can't prosecute folks,” Horn said. “We can’t prosecute without witnesses.”

Out of 23 murders committed in Miami Gardens last year, 17 remain unsolved, said State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle. She has assigned a specific prosecutor to work with the city whenever a Miami Gardens homicide case comes to her office.

Also present at the meeting were representatives from the U.S. attorney’s office’s Southern District. Attorney Norman Hemming said his office is expanding its program on violent crime reductions to Miami Gardens. The program has eliminated gangs in Overtown and Liberty City and officials hope it will be just as effective when it expands.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” Hemming said. “At the base of the problem is having a prevention component.”

The city also will continue its partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration, and federal law enforcement.

Miller said that in the last six weeks of 2013, the city seized 13 guns and most of them belonged to teenagers.

“I think it’s unconscionable that 17-, 15- and 14-year-olds are running around the street with firearms,” he said.

Glenn Forshee, whose 12-year-old daughter was killed in an as yet unsolved drive-by shooting last August, said he was glad the city offered residents a chance to vent and express their concerns.

“The meeting was greatly needed, but we need to have more,” he said.

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