Federal, state and local law enforcement officials on Thursday urged greater cooperation from community leaders in Miami to thwart terrorist attacks and gun violence. They also pledged to do everything possible to protect churches, mosques and synagogues from hate crimes.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer was joined by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle in making the case for increased collaboration at a three-hour-long Community Resilience Forum held at Ferrer’s office in downtown Miami. Also on hand were representatives from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as well as the police chiefs for Miami-Dade and Miami.
In opening remarks, Ferrer told the more than 50 participants — leaders of houses of worship, teachers, students and social workers — that increased contacts between the community and law enforcement was needed given the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, an “uptick in bias-related incidents” and “an uptick” in incidents of gun violence.
“These are challenging times,” Ferrer said.
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For her part, Fernández Rundle said she also wanted to send a message to families who have lost children in recent incidents of gun violence in Miami-Dade.
“There’s also neighborhood terrorism,” she said. “And we have no immediate answers for the families who have lost children.”
Through November last year, at least 30 children and teenagers have been killed in Miami-Dade County and more than twice that many have been shot, according to figures compiled by the Miami Herald. Fernández Rundle and Ferrer said they hoped to stage the Community Resilience Forums frequently. They also urged community leaders at the event to call law enforcement officials if they have information, questions, concerns or advice. In folders given to community leaders, officials included a master list of contacts in 34 local police departments, as well as federal and state agencies ready to take the calls.
After Ferrer and Fernández Rundle spoke, several federal agency representatives spoke, followed by the Miami-Dade and Miami police chiefs.
George Piro, the FBI’s special agent in charge at the Miami field division, said a priority was plots by terrorists to stage attacks in cities. Citing an example, Piro mentioned the arrest of Harlem Suárez, a Cuba-born alleged sympathizer of the Islamic State terror group which controls swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. Suárez, a Key West resident, has been charged in a case in which he allegedly sought to assemble a backpack bomb to place in a public beach. Suárez has since pleaded not guilty and a federal judge has ordered a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant to see if he is competent to stand trial.
Piro also said that in some recent cases, including the attack in San Bernardino, law enforcement found that friends and family members “had been reluctant to report” what they knew. As a result, he added, the FBI hoped for increased community engagement.
Ari C. Shapira, an ATF assistant special agent in charge in Miami, said his agency was developing a “text tips” system to enhance the ability of the public to send text messages to law enforcement about possible plots or other crimes.
Meanwhile, Miami-Dade acting police director Juan Pérez, said that on a daily basis he fears a terrorist attack on a lesser scale than Paris but still frightening. “Parises happen all the time, but they do not attack the attention of the attacks in the French capital.”
Rodolfo Llanes, the Miami police chief, said police departments should “go back to the future” and institute beat patrols for increased vigilance, rather than just cruising the streets in police cruisers.