Two years ago, Miami police arrested Jean Pierre — a notorious gang leader of Liberty City’s 12th Court Cowboys — for a host of violent crimes that included witness tampering, robbery, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill.
When a key witness recanted testimony, the state was forced to set him free. In September, Miami-Dade police picked up Pierre for trespassing on an earlier probation violation and a new charge that set in motion a 50-year prison sentence.
The arrest of Pierre, 26, by county police — even though he was heavily sought in Miami — can be credited to a stroke of luck. But if Miami and Miami-Dade police soon get their way, finding, charging and prosecuting criminals could become a lot easier.
On Tuesday, an item is scheduled to go before Miami-Dade commissioners that would allow the county’s two largest law enforcement agencies to pool intelligence and resources, essentially enhancing a North End Street Violence Task Force the county created at the end of last year to tackle a series of shootings and violent crimes in the county’s North End district.
“We’d share real-time intelligence, have joint investigations focused on the same subjects,” said Miami-Dade Police Deputy Director Juan Perez. “If we’re working the same target, maybe we don’t have probable cause [and Miami does]. Who cares who’s making the arrests.”
The move to join forces and bolster crime prevention in the northern part of the county is centered around two of South Florida’s most infamous housing projects, Miami’s Liberty Square and Lincoln Fields, which is in unincorporated Miami-Dade.
The two communities sit almost adjacent to each other and each runs a few blocks north from Northwest 62nd Street. Both were built after the Great Depression to create a middle-class community for blacks living poor housing in Overtown and Coconut Grove, and stuck in menial jobs.
As crime increased and tenants fled over the years, the two communities of the now-dilapidated townhomes, only separated by Northwest 17th Avenue, have turned into havens for the drug and gun trade. The neighborhoods now have some of Miami-Dade’s highest shooting and murder rates.
And though 17th Avenue borders the two projects and separates Miami from unincorporated Miami-Dade, it doesn’t deter criminals; it only hampers police work, cops say. Working together would also help in prosecuting offenders as the agencies would be able to share in forensics and witness questioning.
“One thing we’ve learned over the years is bad guys don’t stay in the same place. The bad guys work together, so law enforcement has to work together,” said Miami police homicide Cmdr. Eunice Cooper. “This was an individual who was wreaking havoc in several jurisdictions.”
The plan to join forces comes at a critical time: Miami still hasn’t solved a June double murder that also left seven people injured at an apartment complex on the edge of Liberty Square.
Miami police have been dealing with a spike of shootings in the city’s north end the past two years that have left several people dead, and a community on edge. In one instance, a pastor was gunned down as robbers tried to steal a fake chain from his neck.
In the first seven months of this year, 43 people living in and around Liberty Square, which runs from Northwest 62nd to 67th streets, 12th to 15th avenues, were shot. Seven were killed.
Just to the west of Liberty Square, in Lincoln Fields in unincorporated Miami-Dade, seven people have been shot so far this year. One person was killed. County records show the violence has spread well outside the housing project.
So far this year, there have been 28 murders in the county’s Northside District, which runs roughly from Northwest 58th to 119th Street, and Interstate 95 west to Northwest 37th Avenue. That’s down slightly from the 30 who were killed to this point in 2013.
Last year’s shootings caught the attention of Miami-Dade police, who in November formed the North End Street Violence Task Force. Essentially, investigators from gang, narcotics and economic crime units have joined street patrols to focus on the crime in that end of the county.
Police have also added an element of community policing, making themselves more visible and are trying to get to know residents.
They say it’s working: So far this year, killings are down slightly and the clearance rate for homicides — which county police consider an arrest — has jumped from 17 percent last year to 45 percent so far this year.
Miami-Dade Police Maj. Hector Lievat said his unit initially identified 20 violent offenders within the district and has, so far, arrested 17 of them on charges including narcotics trafficking, murder and attempted murder.
He said joining forces with Miami will make it easier to track offenders who are retaliating against each other across borders that are only adhered to by police.
“It could be a beef in a nightclub. Or filling a drug hole,” Lievat said. “We’re going to share info and go after murderers.”