Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: The City Beautiful becomes the City Burglarized

It’s deplorable: The Coral Gables Police Department deceived the public about the rising tide of crime in the City Beautiful.

For about two years now, I’ve been hearing friends and acquaintances who live in the Gables complain — privately and publicly on social media — about house break-ins, car burglaries and thefts, and the damage that results from failed attempts as well.

“They cleaned us out while we were on vacation,” a lawyer friend told me back in 2012. “They were professionals. They knew how to disarm the alarm and get in and out of the master bedroom without making a sound that neighbors could hear.”

The metal spare-tire cover of another Gables friend’s SUV was ripped open. The jagged metal was eerie. This was no easily accessible canvas cover, which means someone took his time working it.

“Oh yeah, they tried to steal the tire,” she said, as if this were a common occurrence. “It was my fault. I shouldn’t have parked in an out-of-the-way street to go to a festival.”

And on and on, many residents believed they had bad luck or made mistakes that caused criminals to take advantage of them when — now we know — burglars and thieves had clearly targeted their wealthy and mostly ungated community.

Coral Gables police weren’t doing much to alert residents to what was happening — in fact, the department was doing everything possible to keep the problem under the radar. Asked whether crime was on the increase, the police department brought out statistics — burglaries only — that indicated crime rates hadn’t changed much. But there were many other property crimes that weren’t categorized as burglaries.

The police could hum and hide until media bigwigs and high-profile people came home to burglarized dwellings — among them Ana Navarro, an outspoken Republican operative and frequent commentator on national television, who posted on Facebook not only about a break-in earlier this year but about how ineptly the Gables police acted: “Nice enough,” but ineffective.

“My burglary was smack in the middle of the day on a prominent street ... a block from the Biltmore” hotel, Navarro told me Tuesday by email. “Buses full of tourists go by there all hours of the day. I don't think the police have done enough to alert residents that there is a rash of burglaries going on and educate on what precautions we should take. I think for a long time they tried to minimize the problem for political reasons.”

Exactly, but Univision 23, WPLG-ABC10 and The Miami Herald persisted and investigated, talking to residents and demanding numbers that told the full, true story of crime in the city.

The police department held steadfastly to its version that increased criminal activity was only perception. But residents didn’t allow themselves to be fooled.

In the ensuing drama, Police Chief Dennis Weiner was forced to resign, and there was the bizarre naming of an acting police chief and interim police chief at the same time — another indication that things weren’t well in city administration. That same day, at a nine-hour City Commission meeting on Sept. 11, 200 people denounced the city’s response to increased criminal activity and questioned how the police department calculated its statistics.

Although the new police administration doesn’t want to comment on Weiner’s reign and his statistics, finally we know the truth.

Take a look on MiamiHerald.com at the Herald’s impressive interactive map of 1,103 property crimes in a one-year period alone.

Awareness is the first line of defense against crime — and the Coral Gables Police royally failed the public. But you can’t keep truth hidden for long.