21st-century policing

Members of Miami-Dade Police Department’s motorcycle patrol
Members of Miami-Dade Police Department’s motorcycle patrol miamidade.gov

The Miami-Dade Commission usually deals with issues related to major projects or how taxpayer money is spent. But at its Dec. 2 meeting, commissioners are set to consider four issues that could substantially alter the way the Miami-Dade Police Department polices.

On the agenda are four issues that deal with whether the department should invest in tracking the sound of gunfire, whether officers should wear body cameras, issuing alerts when adults go missing and how to better deal with mentally ill residents.

Each of the four issues will require a financial investment, but one that should lead to savings for residents in the long run. The commission should move forward on each matter:

Gunfire detection: The commission is being asked to research whether to purchase gunshot-detection technology, a product called ShotSpotter, which can track gunshots in areas that are pre-equipped with sensory devices. The idea is to help police pinpoint the exact location of bullets fired. ShotSpotter is tailor-made for high-crime areas where gun violence might not always be reported because residents are afraid to call it in. How many police hours will be spared with such technology? Miami and Miami Gardens police have already joined Oakland and Milwaukee in bringing in gunshot-detection technology. Miami-Dade should be next.

Police body cameras: The measure would equip police officers with body cameras — it also has the most opposition. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has come out in favor of adding the equipment, but the police union is fighting it. The county plans to study the benefits, first. Fine, but that shouldn’t be a stalling tactic. In Rialto, California, where officers were outfitted with cameras, complaints against officers decreased 88 percent, and officers’ use of force dropped 60 percent. Cameras are a powerful investigative tool and can help keep rogue officers in check.

Missing persons: The measure seeks a way to disseminate information to the public about missing persons who do not fall under the Amber Alerts for children or Silver Alerts for the elderly. Two tragic events are cited in the resolution: Noemi Gonzalez, 54, went missing in February from her North Miami home. Her son said his mother’s wallet and cell phone were in the house and the front door unlocked. Ms. Gonzalez has not been found; and when Tanya Gonzalez, 28, disappeared, her family feared that her ex-boyfriend was involved. Her decomposing body was later found inside her parked car; her ex-boyfriend committed suicide in the Keys.

Neither woman’s case qualified for an emergency bulletin to the public under the existing programs, yet law enforcement’s efforts to find them would have been aided by such alerts. Fixing this gap in the system could save lives.

Mentally ill persons: This measure has to do with how police interact with mentally ill people. Few realize the county has the largest percentage of such individuals of any urban community in the United States, with approximately 9.1 percent of the population suffering from a persistent mental illness. Local officers are usually the ones who have to confront them when in crisis. This item calls for expanding the number of Crisis Intervention Teams (CITs) in the department.

If commissioners shepherd through all four measures — and they should — they will help make the county’s largest law-enforcement agency police a model for 21st-century policing.