South Miami

South Miami major crimes drop from 995 in 2013 to 725 last year

South Miami Police Chief René Landa.
South Miami Police Chief René Landa. El Nuevo Herald File

It hasn’t taken long for South Miami Police Chief René Landa to make an impact in the community.

Total Part I crimes in South Miami dropped from 995 in 2013 to 725 in 2014, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Part I crimes include aggravated assault, forcible rape, murder, robbery, arson, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.

“Most of it has to do with the new chief,” City Manager Steven Alexander said. “He and I have worked together to get new standards and practices, policies in place, new leadership throughout the entire organization. The whole place has had a complete redesign in terms of who the management is over there and what the management philosophy is and who is on what shifts and that sort of thing. From top to bottom we have made a series of dramatic changes in the department. Happily, that is proving to be very successful.”

In one year’s time, robberies were down from 40 to 12, aggravated assaults from 50 to 26, burglaries from 149 to 103, and larcenies from 734 to 550.

“Our numbers usually oscillate over time as the criminals invent new ways to make trouble and the PD evolves new counter-methods to stop them,” Mayor Philip Stoddard said. “But this year, Chief Landa and his team managed to break the curve.”

FDLE released numbers at the halfway point, showing that crimes in South Miami were down 29 percent in the first six months of last year compared to the first six months of 2013.

One difference between Landa’s strategy and the previous regime’s is that Landa has stationed officers in six different zones. By staying in respective zones, officers get to know and communicate with the people that live and work in those areas and familiarize themselves with navigation.

Landa said that car break-ins and other crimes have declined with the new strategies in place. Officers were sent to residences to educate the community on crime prevention, while the chief maintains a solid relationship with locals.

“The reason that [crime declined] is because we got really involved with the clergy,” Landa said. “I go to meetings with them. They call me in. If I see anything out of line, like maybe a traffic stop or we stop a kid and had to put him on the ground or whatever I think is going to have a problem, I pick up the phone and call my citizen in that area that cares. … Or I talk to one of my pastors and say, you may hear about this but this is what happened and I’m telling you first before anything else happens. It’s that open communication between, before stuff hits the fan, I’m calling you to tell you this is what happened. With that a lot of the crime has dropped because we have really been involved in the area.”

The “zone integrity” initiative involves officers alternating zones between morning, afternoon and night shifts. A major, captain or lieutenant leads each of the shifts.

Uniformed officers also have participated in staff walks, where they ask residents and businesses about issues while handing out pamphlets.

Landa was named permanent South Miami police chief in February 2014.That same month, the department also received full accreditation from the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation for the first time.

As chief, Landa reorganized the department from the top down. Major Louis Fata, who was previously a major, is now assistant chief. Two lieutenants were promoted to captains, and a sergeant was promoted to lieutenant.

“Not since 1996 has South Miami seen a proportional reduction in the total crime rate rivaling this year’s,” Stoddard said. “Given that the decline didn’t happen in any of our neighboring municipalities, and given its rarity in our own city’s data, a decline of that magnitude seems most likely to have resulted from a change in practice.”

The numbers also show a population decrease of 13,778 in 2013 to 13,623 last year.

Landa said there are 51 officers in the department, including three recently hired. The department plans to add another officer soon.

“These numbers are absolute, and not adjusted for population size, which has been steadily increasing in South Miami,” Stoddard said. “Further, the decline appeared while Chief Landa’s team worked on improving community relations. We have seen zero-tolerance programs in other communities achieve some notable short-term gains, but these hardline programs have inevitably eroded community relations, which limited their long-term effectiveness.”

“Seen in the light of Chief Landa’s more progressive community policing initiative, the double dividends of a dramatically lowered crime rate and significantly improved community relations are gratifying testaments to the confidence our community leadership has placed in Chief Landa.”