Hundreds of Coconut Grove residents spilled out of several white tents erected in front of 3727 Grand Avenue Saturday to celebrate the opening of their first — and only — permanent police substation.
“The city of Miami is sending a message to the residents: yes, you can fight city hall and win,” Mayor Tomas Regalado told the crowd, referring to the year-long effort led by public relations executive Fernand Amandi to get more police for the Grove.
Saturday’s opening comes five months after more than 200 residents jammed Miami City commission chambers in a September budget hearing to demand more money to address what they considered a crime spike in their area. At the time, Miami Police chief Manuel Orosa vowed to assign two more officers to Coconut Grove, despite having publicly insisted just days before that crime was not on the rise there.
When the city ultimately passed a budget later that month, which paid for 95 new officers and put $2 million into contract negotiations with the police union, Amandi decided to go further.
He met with city Commissioner Marc Sarnoff about what he called the next obvious step: “Putting a police substation in Coconut Grove,” Amandi told the Miami Herald.
The station is unique in Miami for another reason: nearly all of its operations are privately funded. Though the officers are on the city’s payroll, the Sarnoff Foundation is covering the building’s rent, taxes, insurance, and amenities for the next three years. County Commissioner Xavier Suarez also directed $12,000 to the project from the county’s discretionary fund.
Sarnoff established the foundation in 2012 to raise corporate funds for police enhancement projects. Last year, the foundation committed to paying for the first two years of the station’s lease. At the opening, Sarnoff announced that Miami developer Tibor Hollo volunteered to pay for the third year of the station’s rent.
Sarnoff has been a longtime and vocal proponent for having more police officers on the streets. His goal is to get Miami’s ratio of police officers per 1,000 residents from 2.2 to 3.5 – a ratio comparable to New York City and Boston.
On days when officers have to cover large public events like Heat games, that ratio goes down to 1.6, Sarnoff told the crowd.
Sarnoff said he wants to “change the paradigm” for policing: with enough police, he argued, Miami could be in the top 10 for public safety. With public safety will come more outside investment from mid-size firms.
“We wouldn’t have to spend so much money on economic development,” he said.
Leaders from the West Grove, the predominantly African-American area in which the new substation is housed, applauded the opening of the substation but also pointed to other needs.
Jihad Rashid, president of West Grove’s homeowners and tenant’s association, said the police substation is a “necessary and desirable development,” on the road to revitalization. But resident activism and city efforts should also directly target the joblessness and poverty afflicting the West Grove, which he says, is the “environment that breeds crime” in the first place.
According to a survey commissioned by Sarnoff’s own office, unemployment in the West Grove currently stands at 31 percent – roughly three times the county average, and four times the national average.
Coconut Grove Village Councilman Thaddeus Scott echoed Rashid’s sentiments: “Until the people are empowered, it doesn’t matter what you do – you can gentrify, [police more], but that doesn’t solve the problem.”
The substation will be open Mondays through Saturdays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will be staffed by narcotics and undercover operations expert Sgt. Albert Pacheco, four problem-solving team officers, one public service aide, five beat officers, and two neighborhood resource officers.