It has been a busy year for the South Miami Police Department.
In February, acting chief Rene Landa was named permanent chief and the department received full accreditation from the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation for the first time.
Now the city has released statistics showing that crime in South Miami was down 29 percent for the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2013.
“If I were to put everything on one thing, it has been the officers dedication to getting out there,” Landa said. “They are getting out of their cars. They are talking to people.”
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“It started with the staff and now all the officers are doing this. They have to stop during their shift, park their cars, talk to residents, and give their phone contacts to everybody.”
The department typically has 50 employees, but now has 48, with two spots in the process of being filled, Landa said.
From January through June of 2013, 472 Part I crimes were committed in South Miami. This year that number is down to 337. Burglaries are down from 91 to 50, and robberies are down from 23 to 3, while there has been a 10 percent increase in arrests in the city.
Part I crimes include aggravated assault, forcible rape, murder, robbery, arson, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.
“A huge amount of this is due to Chief Landa,” said City Manager Steven Alexander, who promoted Landa to chief. “He hadn’t been a chief before. I had people that had really interesting qualifications. We had chiefs and (candidates at) very senior stations.”
South Miami officers received pay raises last summer for the first time in at least five years.
Landa said one of the main reasons for the decline in crime is his “zone integrity” initiative. Six police officers used to cover six separate city zones and alternate the zones between morning, afternoon, and night shifts. With zone integrity, officers stay in their particular zone the entire day. A major, captain, or lieutenant leads each zone.
“We have six zones with six different officers who have their own individual jobs,” Landa said. “If the staffing permits, they stay within the zone. They get to know the people, drive the streets, and know the alleyways. They go back and forth and know the citizens they see every single day. Overall, this has really made a difference.”
Landa said the department has added a supervisor and a detective to the criminal investigations division. The department also is participating in staff walks, with uniformed officers walking throughout the community and into businesses, asking residents about any issues and handing out crime pamphlets.
“Everybody from the staff down is going out into the community, contacting residents, and talking to everybody, so they are aware of the crime that is going on,” Landa said.
Alexander said it was Landa’s behavior as acting chief that gave him an idea of what could happen if he was hired permanently.
“I made it clear that certain things were very important to me: employee moral, police moral, and increasing community policing,” Alexander said. “What I saw from him was really buying into that, believing in himself, and walking the walk instead of talking the talk. That ownership of the new philosophy of how to do the job was very important.”