On any given day in Overtown, dozens of people walk down Northwest 17th Street headed toward a homeless shelter, bus stops or a supermarket on the edge of downtown. But first, pedestrians in this poor Miami neighborhood cross a little-used railroad track east of Northwest First Avenue and run the risk of getting arrested.
Over the past 2 1/2 years, an obscure police force run by the Florida East Coast Railway has notched nearly 500 arrests in Miami-Dade County, with the majority being for trespassing at a single crossing used by trains just a few times a week. In contrast, from 2009-2011, they arrested just seven people. Few cases go anywhere, with 85 percent dropped by prosecutors or dismissed by judges. Critics contend they only serve to harass an already marginalized populace and are a drain on the criminal justice system.