Murders and major crimes down in most Miami-Dade cities

Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez.
Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez.

Most cities in Miami-Dade County are bucking a national trend in murder rates and other violent crimes, according to FBI statistics released this week.

Though murder rates were up 10 percent nationwide in 2015 compared to the year before, they dipped in Miami, Miami Beach and North Miami, the statistics show. Unincorporated Miami-Dade, patrolled by the largest police department in the county, showed a slight increase in murders from 84 in 2015 to 86 murders the year before.

Of the largest city police departments, Miami Gardens, which has its third police chief in the past 19 months, recorded the biggest increase in murders, from 13 in 2014 to 18 last year. Overall, major crimes in the city were down 9 percent in 2015 compared with a year earlier.

Miami Gardens did not respond to questions about the crime statistics.

Overall, major crimes in 38 of the county’s policing agencies — which include Florida International University, Miami-Dade Public Schools and the Miccosukee — dipped by 6.8 percent, according to the report. Only 13 of the 38 policing agencies in Miami-Dade reported murders in 2015. Of those, only three localities were in double digits: unincorporated Miami-Dade, the city of Miami and Miami Gardens.

The numbers gathered by the FBI come from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which collects them from local agencies. Major crime categories consist of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and vehicle theft. The percentage of change from year-to-year is based on crime rates per 100,000 residents.

Though law enforcement leaders will tell you that any murder or shooting is one too many, the dipping crime rate seems at odds with the perception that major crime in Miami-Dade is rampant and that children and teens are being killed at an alarming rate compared with other cities across the country.

“The individual instances are more shocking,” said Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez. “When six kids are shot at a party, it shocks the conscious. It’s a good thing it’s highlighted like it is though. A lot more people care.”

Nationally, law enforcement experts say the rise in murders are skewed by alarming jumps in four major cities, Baltimore, Chicago, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., which are up more than 20 percent, the FBI’s Uniformed Crime Report shows.

Speaking in Little Rock, Arkansas, earlier this week, Attorney General Loretta Lynch told The Associated Press that despite the increase in major crimes last year, “2015 still represented the third lowest year for violent crimes in the past two decades.”

Inimai Chettiar, who works at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, told the AP that yes, there are violent crime problems in some cities, “but there is no evidence of a national crime wave.”

To Miami-Dade Police Director Perez’s point, several shootings, especially recent ones, have struck chords of despair in the community.

In mid-August, a drive-by shooting at a wake in Northwest Miami-Dade left two people dead and four others injured. At the end of August, 8-year-old Jada Page was shot in the back of the head and killed as she was making her way to her home’s front porch. And two weeks ago, five teens and a child were shot after a fight at a Sweet 16 party in South Miami-Dade.

A Miami Herald investigation in March found that 316 teens and children had been killed by gunfire in Miami-Dade over the past decade.

“We certainly need to improve where we’re at,” Perez said. “But a lot more people are coming forward. The reality is, when something happens, people call police.”

Overall, major crime in unincorporated Miami-Dade was down 6 percent in 2015 from the year before. Though the murder rate across the county showed a slight uptick, from 202 in 2014 to 217 in 2015, the FBI report shows rapes were down 10 percent and aggravated assault decreased by 4 percent.

In Miami, where murders dropped from 81 in 2014 to 75 last year and rapes dropped about 30 percent, aggravated assaults showed about a 4 percent jump in 2015 compared to 2014. Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes attributed the rise in aggravated assaults to more crimes being captured with the help of ShotSpotter, an electronic device that relays to police within a few feet of where gunfire erupts.

Like the county police director, Llanes said community leaders, activists and church elders, have successfully urged people to come forward more often with information.

“This county is head and shoulders above the rest of the country as far as community policing and crime-fighting,” Llanes said. He called the rise nationally in gun violence “significant because people are getting injured.”

But, he said, “It’s not a huge number. And we’re bucking the trend.”