Local police forces nationwide using ‘crime wave’ as pretext for militarization
Weis announces new strategies to fight crime
By Paul Meincke
Chicago’s top cop revealed some new strategies Friday to fight crime in the city– adding semi-automatic weapons, an armor-plated vehicle, and full SWAT dress in crime hot spots.
Tracking homicide numbers has long been – whether fair or not – an important measure of how well the police department is doing its job. In the first four months of 2008, there have been 134 murders in Chicago. That’s 11 more than in the same period last year. Aggravated batteries are also higher.
The new superintendent is re-working some crime-fighting strategies. His moves involve assignments, firepower, and dress.
Part of the strategy includes deploying SWAT team members and other specialized officers in full battle dress to crime hot spots. The measure began last month and will continue. Critics believe it to be cosmetic and meant to intimidate. The superintendent sees it as a deterrent.
"I don’t want people to think we’re going into war, but I think it does send a strong message. If they’re in SWAT-type uniform and you’re driving through the neighborhood visible, interacting with neighbors and community members, it sends a strong message and serves as a deterrent to violence," said Supt. Jody Weis, Chicago Police Department.
Weis is also moving ahead with plans to equip – within the next three years – all 1,700 of the department’s patrol cars with M-4 carbines, a semi-automatic rifle that SWAT team members now carry. Putting them in squads will require training for every officer authorized to use an M-4.
Weis said he wants the M-4’s for officer safety, and because – in certain deadly force situations – they are more accurate and reliable than a standard issue sidearm.
The police also showed off a ‘bearcat,’ a 16,000 pound, armor-plated, bomb-protected vehicle meant to deliver SWAT team members into destinations under fire.
Adding armed muscle – particularly the plan for M-4 carbines in patrol cars – has heightened concern in some higher-crime neighborhoods that ramped up firepower – whether used or not – will put more distance between police and community.
"I hope they never have to use it. I hope they never have to pull that weapon out of the trunk of their car. But if they do, I will make sure they’re trained and if they do, they’ll be doing it to save a life, either their own or some innocent individual," said Weis.
The department has used its Targeted Response Unit (TRU) to flood crime hot spots with a lot of officers. TRU will now be reduced by 90 officers and officers will be reassigned to work out of their districts.
Police say that should not be seen as a move to de-emphasize special units, and say it is meant to use resources more wisely.
Miramar officials want to bolster police force
The concern comes on the heels of a two-month spate of armed robberies in relatively tranquil parts of the city, as well as consistent complaints about vandalism in many residential neighborhoods.
Declaring that crime is ”head and shoulders” above any other issue facing Miramar, commissioners recently pressed City Manager Bob Payton to find more money for the police department.
Commissioner Troy Samuels made an impromptu resolution to add six officers to the police force and find $500,000 in overtime pay. His fellow commissioners backed him up, then said it wasn’t enough.
Mayor Lori Moseley also called for adding a second safe-street unit to the police department for more patrol officers.
Miramar appears to stand alone in its battle against crime. Other nearby cities that share similar traits with Miramar, such as Pembroke Pines and Weston, say they have not experienced a similar crime wave.
So why Miramar? Several reasons, officials said.
The Southwest Broward city is the closest to Miami-Dade municipalities such as Miami Gardens, whose mayor, Shirley Gibson, has warned that crime is moving north and that Miramar would logically be hit next.
The city’s location also boasts several good highways to get into Miami-Dade, such as Interstate 75, Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 95.
And then there’s the economy.
”As the economic times get more difficult as they are in this nation, I think we’re going to see more of this [criminal activity] and whatever we can do to help more enforcement is important,” Moseley said.
For Moseley, the economy — this thing that is propelling people to commit crimes — could also be the single biggest reason why the city’s response could be limited.
Times are hard and money is scarce, with municipalities particularly hard hit. If this crime trend continues, Moseley said the city might need to slightly raise property tax rates to make up the difference.
City Commissioner Carl Lanke agreed. ”People are willing to take a cents increase, I think,” he said.
Ron Simon-Menendez, a homeowner on the city’s east side, said a group of young people were bullying others and setting off stink bombs in his neighborhood.
”I’ve never seen anything like this in Miramar,” Simon-Menendez said.
Similar stories of bad or criminal behavior have popped up throughout the city.
Starting in February, there have been at least 14 robberies around the city, including the subdivisions of Monarch Lakes and the gated Villages of Renaissance.
Police spokesman Bill Robertson said none of the cases have been solved, nor is there any indication that the robberies were connected.
Still, organized crime is no stranger to the city. In January, Miramar police teamed up with federal agents to charge 13 gang members who were affiliating themselves with the infamous Bloods gang.
Police applied for and received a $25,000 grant from the federal Department of Justice to root out gang activity. The money will supply overtime pay — which directly translates to putting more officers on the street, Robertson said.
The grant contract calls for a 10 percent reduction in armed homicides and robberies. When it comes to homicides, the change would be incremental — there were only seven homicides in 2007, statistics show. There were about 200 robberies and 1,038 burglaries.
In Miami Gardens, just south of Miramar, there were 24 homicides in 2007, nearly 700 robberies and about 1,700 burglaries.
There were no homicides in Pembroke Pines last year, but police statistics show 450 robberies and 1,140 burglaries.
”I think it’s a nationwide trend, but it’s a trend that I don’t want to let get out of hand,” Moseley said.
“It’s unfortunate that the robberies didn’t surprise me as they should. You read about all the bank robberies, the violence and the killings going on all around the nation. It’s scary times.”