Coconut Grove residents concerned about rise in crime

09/06/2013 1:08 PM

09/06/2013 1:11 PM

Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa on Thursday vowed to assign two more police officers to Coconut Grove after more than 200 neighborhood residents jammed the Miami City Commission chambers to complain about a spike in crime.

Thursday’s meeting marked the second time in a year that residents bitterly complained about crime in the eclectic seaside village that includes both lavish homes and tenement apartments. Four additional officers were assigned last year, but residents insist the department needs to hire more officers, not just move them around when crime breaks out.

“The problems were not resolved,” said resident Fernand Amandi, who organized the meeting after burglars broke into three homes on his street in 10 days. “What we’re seeing take place in Miami is a ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ in public safety. There is a deficit of officers.”

In his proposed budget, Mayor Tomas Regalado told residents he has set aside money to hire an additional 25 officers. But police union president Javier Ortiz said the department is down by 40. Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has repeatedly urged the city to hire an additional 100 officers, but no other commissioners supported including it the budget, which will be discussed at a Sept. 12 public hearing.

The city’s new budget year starts Oct. 1.

“Unfortunately, the pie has been established, and now we have to decide how that pie is sliced,” Sarnoff said of the proposed $524 million budget.

Amandi, who last summer galvanized the neighborhood after a wave of property crimes, first emailed residents late last month to see if anyone else had experienced crimes. He said he received “scores” of emails, and decided to organize the meeting.

Though diverse, the Grove remains a tight-knit community when it comes to crime. The All Grove Crime Watch ( www.grovecrimewatch.org), founded in 1995 by Robert Loupo, meets on the second Wednesday of every month at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Neighbors tend to work closely with their district police commander, Manuel Morales, who gave out his cell phone number at Thursday’s meeting.

“With Crime Watch, we encourage neighbors to stay connected and form neighborhood groups,” Loupo said. “It’s important for people to connect and also have accurate information.”

Crime in the Grove was actually down at the beginning of the year, Orosa told residents, but began creeping up in April. So in July, he moved Morales from the Upper East Side to address the problem.

Morales, a 20-year veteran, said he began shifting officers around to patrol when burglars hit most often: between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The Grove has five patrol zones, but only four officers cover service calls. Additional officers, including two neighborhood resource officers, also are available to assist, Morales said.

In addition to assigning Morales, Orosa said he also authorized more overtime and assigned K-9 teams to the Grove.

“Keep in mind we have X amount of officers and we have to deploy them citywide to areas that do not have your issues but have other issues, like shootings,” Orosa said.

In his appeal for more officers, Sarnoff pointed out that the city averages just over two officers for every 1,000 residents. In places like New York City, Baltimore and even Miami Beach, the average is closer to four, he said. With $10 million, he said, the city could hire the 100 officers it needs.

“I do not plan on voting for this budget,” he explained. “It isn’t quality of life I’m talking about. We simply need more police.”

When asked, nearly all 240 people indicated they would attend the Sept. 12 budget hearing, which will be at 5:05 p.m. at City Hall.

“I’m a Grove native and I’ve never seen it this bad in my life,” said Mead McCabe, who lives in the North Grove, where he said nine nearby homes were burglarized in nine days. Four cars had also been stolen, he said.

He said he plans to attend the budget hearing so he can tell commissioners, “if you’re not keeping us safe, you’re not doing your job.”

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