It wasn’t that long ago that Miami, with bullets flying, looked like a lawless city.
Crime rates, especially homicide rates, were high — and the main victims appeared to be aimless, feuding teens who settled disputes by firing AR-15s out of moving car windows.
When police sought out witnesses in violence-plagued neighborhoods, residents clammed up, understandably, while the bloodshed left community leaders and politicians angry, but seemingly helpless.
But newly released crime stats for the city of Miami say that things have drastically changed — and we hope they signal permanent progress.
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A thrilled Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez began 2019 by announcing that the city of almost 500,000 — and also home to the county’s most troubled inner cities — made history last year, this time for the lowest number of murder victims. The count was 51, a figure not seen since 1967, according to statistics supplied by the city’s police department.
That’s a solid decline, down from 59 in 2017. And gun violence seems to be slipping, too. Of those 51 homicides, only 39 were the result of gunfire, the chief told the media.
“This is not only history, this is personal for me, and a testament to our commitment to save lives and reduce crime,” Suarez said.
What happened to bring about such a radical change in the streets of Miami? The chief said neighborhood policing, cameras, mounted police and something almost miraculous — residents who are buying into the “see something, say something” principle, helping police solve and prevent crimes. That’s excellent news, a testament to residents’ increasing courage to talk to police, not tolerating violence even in the face of potential harm from the suspects they are telling on. It also speaks well of police efforts to build trust where it has been perennially damaged, often with good reason.
“The cooperation with residents is better than I’ve seen it in a long time,” Colina said at a news conference this week. “People call us now to say where there are guns stashed. That wasn’t happening before.”
A drop in homicides is not the only decline on record. Crime numbers in Miami show that burglaries in 2018 were down 11 percent from the previous year. Robberies dropped 17 percent. Assault and battery were down 6 percent.
Sex offenses, which jumped 14 percent compared to the previous year, were the only crimes that rose significantly. But in the #MeToo age, more cases are being reported, authorities suspect. Miami-Dade police saw a similar increase.
Across town, Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez said his department has also seen a downturn in crime: Homicides in unincorporated Miami-Dade — whose residents who don’t live in cities and that has a population of more than 1 million — dropped almost 16 percent, from 94 in 2017 to 79 last year, the Miami Herald reported.
If you eliminate domestic-related homicides, the number of street-level murders are significantly lower than past years.
But it’s too soon to declare we’ve beaten back crime. Anything — high unemployment, lousy economy — can trigger an uptick. We need a third consecutive year of decreases to declare it a significant trend. Still, the most heartening number revealed by Miami’s police chief is the number of people who are getting involved in keeping crime out of their neighborhoods. That’s something to celebrate.