At times contradicting one another, Miami’s mayor, city manager and police chief on Thursday defended the city’s handling of violent crimes and police staffing during a City Hall press conference announcing the addition of yet another 40 cops to the city’s police force.
Mayor Tomás Regalado said the city has sped up the rate of police hiring in recent months, and boosted the department’s staffing of sworn officers to 1,197. By adding another $3 million to the police budget, the city should have the money next year to bring Miami’s police force to an unprecedented 1,300 officers.
Regalado also said that, despite a spate of shootings and rhetoric about domestic terrorism in the inner city, violent crime is down even as the city’s population has grown and placed more pressure on the officers patrolling the city.
“Comparing the violent crime rate and the amount of officers to residents, the city of Miami has cut down the violent crime with fewer officers,” Regalado said, echoing a memo released to commissioners Wednesday showing that Miami’s violent-crime rate has been slowly dropping.
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Regalado, who gathered the media exactly one week before the first of two 2016 budget hearings, said Thursday’s press conference was called to announce the city’s efforts. He said it wasn’t reactive — even though the city manager and police chief have been under pressure from city commissioners to curb shootings and robberies, and meet an edict to bolster the police force to historic heights.
In June, city commissioners attended a special meeting to warn that the city could face a police staffing crisis in 2017 if Miami doesn’t do a better job of recruiting officers, and that the city manager’s job could be on the line if crime isn’t reduced. But Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes said the city has hired more than 100 officers this year and began a hiring spree long before that meeting.
“It is not because of a June meeting that all these hires are coming to fruition,” he said.
Regardless of the motive for calling Thursday’s media event, it was a bit choppy. Just minutes after Regalado and Alfonso talked about a drop in violent crime, Llanes said violent crime is actually up from last year.
Llanes attributed that 7 percent increase in crimes against people to a spike in the number of reported shootings. He said that’s due to the city’s new use of ShotSpotter, an acoustic system that locates gunfire and dispatches police to the exact location. With the new system, Llanes said the city is recording a large number of shootings that previously went unreported.
Still, police union president Lt. Javier Ortiz seized on the discrepancy.
“We have a 28 percent increase in shootings,” said Ortiz. “Things are getting worse.”
The question now: How will Miami’s five commissioners feel when they meet Sept. 10 for the first of two budget hearings? At least three commissioners — Frank Carollo, Marc Sarnoff and Francis Suarez — have been on record saying the city needs to increase its police force.
“They bought themselves some more road on the track, maybe,” Sarnoff said about the administration’s plan to spend an additional $3 million and increase the police force by 40 officers.
For Regalado and Alfonso, balancing the whims of Miami’s sometimes-unpredictable commissioners, the public’s concerns about safety, and the city’s finances is a tricky equation. Miami’s coffers are expected to be replete with property taxes thanks to a building boom, but the administration is finishing contract negotiations with the fire union and beginning talks with the police union, both of which are expected to receive improved benefits.
Alfonso said 40 additional officers is, after some review, the most the city can add to the force without jeopardizing other important initiatives or the city’s long-term finances. He also said that with 1,300 officers budgeted, Miami will be able to police a city with a growing downtown population and be safely guarded in 2017, when 100 cops are scheduled to retire in the month of September alone.
“We will have the number of officers we need to have at the end of 2017,” he said.