Miami used to be a murder capital. Now, not so much, as crime rates hit historic low

A command center at Miami police headquarters now has more than 160 cameras throughout the city that officers can monitor to stop and solve crimes.
A command center at Miami police headquarters now has more than 160 cameras throughout the city that officers can monitor to stop and solve crimes.

Miami used to be one of the country’s murder capitals. Now, not so much.

Newly released figures show that the fast-growing city of almost 500,000 — which routinely racked up close to 300 homicides yearly during the drug-fueled 1980s — set a historic low in 2018.

Miami recorded 51 homicides last year, according to statistics supplied by the city’s police department. That’s down from 59 in 2017 and its lowest yearly total since in 1967. And of those 51 homicides, only 39 were the result of gunfire.

City leaders attribute the decrease in the murder rate in the largest city in Miami-Dade County to a combination of crime-fighting techniques like mounted police patrols, the addition of cameras and residents who are more willing to work with police in stopping crimes before they happen.

“It’s a little bit of everything. The cooperation with residents is better than I’ve seen it in a long time,” said Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina. “People call us now to say where there are guns stashed. That wasn’t happening before.”

Crime numbers in Miami are down across the board, city statistics show. Burglaries in 2018 are down 11 percent from the previous year. Robberies dropped 17 percent. Assaults and batteries are down 6 percent. The only crime category that rose significantly were sex offenses, which jumped 14 percent compared to a year ago.

And the drop in major crime isn’t an anomaly across the county. Miami-Dade police released crime statistics late Tuesday that show a similar pattern. Homicides in unincorporated Miami-Dade — which comprises residents who don’t live in cities and has a population of more than 1 million — dropped almost 16 percent, from 94 in 2017 to 79 last year.

Those records also show that robberies were down 14 percent, aggravated assaults dropped by more than 6 percent and burglaries were down almost 24 percent. Like Miami, the only crime statistic that increased was for forcible sex offenses.

Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez said if you eliminate domestic-related homicides, the number of street level murders are significantly lower than past years. But he refused to call the statistics a success.

“You can’t claim success when you have grieving family members and you haven’t made an arrest. I get that,” he said.

With the Parkland shooting still fresh in everyone’s mind and all the bloody nightly newscasts, it probably doesn’t seem so, but, a New York Times story last month outlined how the murder rate across the U.S. was on track for its largest one-year drop in the past five years.

Still, Miami’s numbers compare favorably to other major cities with similar populations — especially taking into account that the city’s population balloons to nearly 1 million each day with the influx of tourists and downtown workers who live outside the city limits.

Baltimore, for instance, with a population of more than 600,000, saw its homicide rate drop more than 25 percent in 2018 compared to the year before. And still it had more than 300 homicides last year, surpassing that number for the fourth year in a row. Atlanta, which has a slightly larger population than Miami, had 50 homicides as of the middle of July, according to a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Overall, major crimes in Miami, which includes homicides, armed robberies and assaults, were down 9 percent this year compared to last. City leaders credit the drop in the homicide rate to a combination of crime-fighting efforts, some of which have been recently implemented.

After the high-profile broad daylight April shooting deaths of Northwestern High School teenagers Rickey Dixon and Kimson Green in Liberty Square, police ramped up mounted patrols in the neighborhood, began actively interacting with residents and installed almost three dozen cameras on light posts around the housing complex in the heart of Liberty City.

In all, the city has increased the number of cameras throughout the city from 16 to more than 160 over the past year, with most of the cameras placed in Liberty City and around downtown Miami. It’s evident in a high-tech command center at police headquarters where dozens of colorful closed-circuit feeds light up a dark room, giving officers real-time footage of hotspots throughout downtown and Liberty City.

Colina said this year the department will try to install more cameras throughout Little Havana, which he said is dealing with a gang issue that’s pushing up crime there.

Though some Liberty Square residents argued that a stronger police presence wouldn’t curtail the gun violence, at the very least it’s put a temporary halt to the shootings. Neighborhood Commander Keandra Simmons and her staff have organized several community barbecues and kickball games for kids since the April shooting.

Simmons said there’s still a long way to go to get the community’s trust, but the department is moving in the right direction.

“When we first got there [ramping up patrols in Liberty Square], they wouldn’t even talk with us,” Simmons said. “Now, people call and ask for officers.”

Still, Perez and Colina realize when a crime hits home, statistics don’t mean all that much to the victims or their families. Gladiest Barnes agrees with them.

Barnes has lost two of her seven children to gunfire, the most recent just before Thanksgiving, when her daughter, Quantia Golden, 33, was cut down by gunfire — along with her own 13-year-old daughter — for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Golden was killed in Opa-locka when three men who shot up a home noticed she witnessed the shooting while sitting in a car outside the home. Barnes’ granddaughter was shot but survived.

“Are the numbers accurate?” Barnes asked. “It doesn’t seem like it. And it really doesn’t help. I can’t be excited or really happy about it because of my child. If a parent were in my shoes, everything is still painful.”