Special South Beach sector patrols recently established by the Miami Beach Police Department have drastically reduced the number of vagrants, derelicts and panhandlers on the streets South Beach, particularly on Washington Avenue.
Washington Avenue had gradually taken on the appearance of a skid row due to a lack of enforcement of misdemeanor ordinances and ineffective cooperation between the police department and the city’s homeless outreach program, which has an ample number of beds and meals available for everyone who accepts assistance. When outreach personnel reach out to the homeless persons sprawled on sidewalks and in doorways, and they refuse assistance, the police may arrest them.
I walked up and down Washington Avenue once each evening for two weeks. I observed foot patrolmen actually working on the streets during the first ten days. I did what I could to assist?people who care should do the same instead of complaining that the cops do nothing about public nuisances.
On one occasion I pointed out a professional panhandler, who was working the McDonald’s door at Lincoln Road and Washington, to a police officer who was conversing with a man standing ten feet away from the panhandler. The hip-hop bum was a well-dressed, clean-cut young conman with a hospital-patient identification tag hanging around his neck, leaning on a walker while softly asking people for money. The officer looked surprised when I gave him a heads-up; he promised to arrest the man.
On another occasion I observed another professional panhandler working the same door. A drunk was sprawled across the sidewalk and playing with himself a short distance away. A police officer was chatting with people on Lincoln Road, about thirty feet away from the panhandler. I called the magic police department number (305-673-7901) given to me by Capt. Causey, the officer who serves as chief of the South District, and he reported that both the drunk and the panhandler had been picked up.
I observed a patrolman standing with arms folded, staring down a loiterer, perhaps a drug dealer or thief, outside the Starbucks near the police station. The man finally snickered and walked away. I spoke with the hardnosed cop about the vagrants that had overrun Miami Beach. He said the homeless had more rights than people with homes and jobs. I mentioned the vagrant called ‘The Masturbator’, whom he said he had arrested several times. I was surprised to learn there were several public masturbators on the streets.
Almost every time I walked by Walgreens on Lincoln Road and Collins Avenue, there were drunks passed out around the store or vagrants panhandling there, so I called the police and they were removed. Walgreens is so notorious for allowing drunks and derelicts around its busy store next to luxury hotels that they are called “Walgreens Advertisements.”
I have not seen any special sector patrolmen for the last three days, but I may have missed them during my walk. I was rather amazed to see no drunks sprawled on the sidewalks, even around Walgreens. I saw only one regular panhandler?the old guy with a cane who beckons people to talk to him around the police station then asks them for a dollar?but he was inactive. Two gnarly Cuban fellows, whom I had never seen before, were working the bus stop bench with beers in paper bags for “fifty cents for the bus” just south of the police station. An obese woman, a new arrival sitting in a doorway on Lincoln Road, was holding out a large paper cup. But that was it. Gone were the derelicts and gay hustlers from the nooks and crannies of the historic post office. Gone were the hopelessly homeless people huddling in urine-drenched doorways. Gone was The Masturbator from the public parking lot at 9th and Washington.
The word is spreading up and down Washington Avenue, at least, that the cops are “doing something” instead of “doing nothing as usual.” Let us not forget that the cops have virtually eliminated the open drug dealing on the avenue?there used to be dealers on nearly every block. We should know that much of what the police force actually does in South Beach is invisible because it is done undercover.
The cops have been shooting and killing bad guys for some time on or near Washington Avenue, which has also become the main street of a sort hip-hop Dodge City in need of a Marshal Dillon, and the bad guys have been shooting each other dead. Boss Jorge Gonzales, the city manager, believes we have plenty of cops since the rates for major crimes like murder and rape are holding steady or going down. But working the seven major crimes on the F.B.I. Uniform Crime Report is not all the police department does. Of course when a cop kills a suspect when s/he perceives a threat to life, the shooting is not counted on the major crime index because it is not a murder.
Boss Gonzalez has repeatedly declined to provide statistics on lesser crimes. Naturally, when the cops do a great job arresting dope dealers and prostitutes, and detecting and arresting people for other crimes, the crime rate goes up, something that might scare tourists away. When the rate goes down, that could mean the cops are not doing their jobs efficiently.
I hold to the Broken Beach Theory, that the toleration of petty crimes and minor felonies condones and sanctions disrespect for South Beach, and will eventually result in an explosion of major crimes and resulting bad publicity. Let us face the awful truth. Our beach is broken. S/he who ignores evil is good for nothing. All the summaries of criminal incidents should be available on the police department’s website, as they are in Minneapolis, for example. What the people of South Beach do not know, because the authorities “do not want to hurt tourism,” will eventually hurt everybody.
“I’m Matt Dillon, United States Marshal, the first man they look for and the last they want to meet. It’s a chancy job, and makes a man watchful…and a little lonely. “