Serguey Hernandez doesn’t want to be known as the officer you wave at as he flies by in his South Miami police cruiser. He doesn’t want you to be afraid to approach him.
He wants to be your friend.
The 25-year-old has been working, the now full-time, business district walking beat for two weeks. Chief Rene Landa appointed the four-year South Miami Police Department veteran to the beat, hoping to cultivate relationships with merchants and citizens in the area, and deter crime.
“I did this job to make a difference,” Hernandez said. “The relationship between the community and a police officer is not just all a guy in a car. I don’t want to be known by that. I want to be known by my first name and my last name. Sometimes when you wear this uniform, you see people look at you weird and they wonder, ‘Am I in trouble?’ or ‘They are afraid.’”
“Anytime, come up to me and say, hi. We can talk. Any concerns that they have. There are no silly questions. I want their friendship … not (for them) to be afraid of me.”
The beat was previously implemented only during the holiday season, but became permanent Oct. 1.
“I want to be there to assist them with any type of problems immediately,” Landa said. “If they are having a parking problem or having a homeless problem in the middle of the night, they are in the back alley going to the bathroom and other stuff that is an eyesore for them, or they are having traffic issues. I want to be able to resolve these issues right away by having someone that is there, five days a week, basically working the day shift hours when everybody is coming, and to make sure that we are present.”
Landa said he gave Hernandez a phone and he wants him to personally know every merchant in the downtown area. Several officers applied for the position, but it was Hernandez’s personality that earned him the beat, according to Landa.
“He already knew people in the downtown area,” Landa said. “He had their numbers and names and had already been working on that. That’s what I want. I want to be visibly seen in the downtown area for our merchants and people who come and walk in South Miami.”
Hernandez mentioned frequent stops at the CVS Pharmacy, at 5795 Sunset Dr., where he frequently responds to shoplifting and loitering calls.
“It is going to make a great impact,” said Gus Maglil, manager at the CVS Pharmacy. “In just the time he has been here it has made a big difference. It’s an awesome impact. He is very visible. Him being visible just keeps (criminals) away. He’s part of the neighborhood.”
Harvey Zelaya, general manager at Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers, 5701 Sunset Dr., enjoys better response times and a more intimate police presence.
“They are helping out and giving security to all the businesses in the area to our guests,” Zelaya said. “That is very important, especially where we are at. Having them involved, not only in their cars, but also on bikes … helping us feel confortable and safe. They have a really quick response time. They have given me their personal cell phone number.”
The business district beat officer and a police athletic league officer position now gives Landa a total of 52 officers.
“I believe it’s good for the city,” Hernandez said. “The downtown area is a really busy area down here. Sometimes we have a little bit of delay responding to calls with traffic and U.S. 1, so having a unit just down here, I think it’s great. Response time is going to go down.”
Hernandez will use several means of transportation to navigate the area, including: walking, a patrol car, a bike, and an electric utility vehicle.
“I think half of the calls we are getting from this area don’t even go to the station, they go to me,” Hernandez said. “People feel more confortable with me to this point. Sometimes they don’t want to call the station because they don’t know if they should call the police for this matter. Maybe it’s a silly question or stuff like that. I’m getting all those calls at this point.”
Hernandez often gives out his direct phone number, crime prevention tips and contact information for the police station.
“It’s very positive,” Landa said. “We want to be seen out there. I want it to be like almost back in the 1960s when we had that walking beat effect, where everybody knew the officer around the block. Everybody had his number and you knew how to get in touch with him. That’s what I want to build here.”