Coral Gables PD: Crime down despite recent spike

FDLE: Burglaries, auto thefts, purse snatchings up

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter
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CORAL GABLES, Fla. - The Coral Gables Police Department says long-term trends prove crime is down despite a recent spike in burglaries, automobile thefts, and purse snatchings.

Ruben Arboleda is accused of sneaking into breaking apartments in Coral Gables to steal items ranging from jewelry to laptops. On at least two occasions, he did it while the victims were sleeping, police say.

"Oh wow, yeah, that's scary," said University of Miami student Rianna Hidalgo.

Hidalgo told Local 10's Christina Vazquez she had wondered why a Coral Gables police officer knocked on her door asking if she had heard anything.  Hidalgo said the officer didn't mention there had been burglary reports at her complex and the apartment building just behind her. She also never received a crime prevention alert from police following Arboleda's arrest.

In an arrest affidavit, police said a burglary task force was created "due to a recent spike in occupied and unoccupied residential burglaries" at the two apartment buildings at 1500 Venera Avenue and 1515 San Remo Avenue.

None of the tenants who spoke with Local 10 on Wednesday said they had heard a word about it from police. When Local 10 visited the buildings on Wednesday afternoon, some tenants on the ground floor, including the resident who lives right next door to one of the burglary victims, felt secure enough to leave their windows open. Arboleda's arrest form states that he entered the apartments through an unlocked door on two occassions.

Arboleda's arrest follows a string of high-profile, mostly property crime-related events in Coral Gables, including thefts at the Village of Merrick Park and cell phone store robberies near Miracle Mile.

During an armed robbery at the Biltmore Hotel, gunmen approached security through the loading docks and made off with $15,000. The heist was not made known to the public for about two weeks. Hotel guests were never in harm's way, police say.

The series of cell phone and wallet grabs at the Village of Merrick Park include one incident caught on camera at the valet stand outside Neiman Marcus. 

At least two of the cell phone stores in the Miracle Mile area have been targeted by a group of crooks. In both cases, witnesses told police the getaway car was a dark-colored, possibly black, Dodge Ram.

"Not recognizing we have a crime problem in our city is a disservice to the citizens," said Commissioner Ralph Cabrera.

He's been sounding an alarm about the steady increase of some crime categories since last December, when he told his fellow commissioners in a meeting, "that same property crime can turn into a violent crime very quickly." 

Cabrera shared letters he has received from concerned citizens. He asked Local 10's Vazquez to meet him at a home along S Greenway on Thursday. He told her the home, "in the heart of Coral Gables," had recently been burglarized.

City Manager Patrick Salerno says the discussion is merely Cabrera playing politics.

"This is an election year. Okay, that's what this is," said Salerno.

Salerno said it was "irresponsible" of Cabrera to make crime an issue when, in his opinion, it is not. One can safely walk the streets of Coral Gables at any time of day or night, he said.

Cabrera is running for mayor in an April election and has been critical of the city's current administration.

"Even though it seems like it's a campaign issue, it's not; it's a governance issue," said Cabrera.

It is no secret Cabrera and Salerno have a contentious relationship. Their, at times, fiery exchanges during City Commission meetings have become legendary.

Local 10's Vazquez pulled Coral Gables crime data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The statistics are from "Uniform Crime Reporting" data, a program conceived in 1929 to better collect and archive reliable uniform crime statistics from departments nationwide.

The FBI is in charge of reporting nationwide results. In Florida, the FDLE is tasked with collecting the data from the state's municipal and county agencies, which they then submit to the FBI.

20112012Increase from 2011 to 2012
Auto Theft425429%
Purse Snatchings412200%

Source: FDLE

The figures on crime in Coral Gables, which the Coral Gables Police Department submitted to FDLE, show burglary, auto theft and purse snatchings rose in 2012. This follows a total index crime percentage increase of 16.8% from 2010 to 2011. 

Salerno points out that any city, on any given year, will have some crime categories that show an increase. Crimes trend up and down over time. Also, the numbers reflect increases in property crime. Violent crime rates in Coral Gables are historically low. 

Acting Police Chief Scott Masington told Local 10 that despite the uptick in some property crime categories, "our crime rate is down."

His interpretation of the data is accurate. He says he'd prefer the public to compare the figures to crime rates from the previous five years. When considering that gamut of figures, crime rates are down relative to how high they were in previous years, even in categories in which there has been a recent spike. This long view of sorts has the added benefit of figures from 2008, a year in which crime rates were the highest in most categories over the past six years. This slightly skews the overall average. 

Acting Chief Masington says the percentages can be deceiving and appear inflated since the individual numbers per category are so low. 

Take, for example, purse snatchings. The percentage increase from 2011 to 2012 was a whopping 200%. That is because there were just 4 in 2011 compared to 12 in 2012. He also stressed the added benefit Coral Gables residents have when it comes to the ratio of officers per capita.

"Our residents and business men and women are safe in this environment," Masington said.

Arguments and interpretations aside, it doesn't change the fact that Hidalgo had no idea a man was recently arrested for sneaking into apartments at her complex. She said she would have appreciated a simple reminder to lock the doors and close the windows, simple crime prevention steps that people sometimes forget when living in a safe area.

"It would be good to know what's going on in the community and what we can do to be careful, even if they were telling people to be more conscious about locking doors, just so that we are aware at least," said Hidalgo.

"We do have this particular case on our agenda for our next crime watch meeting," said Masington.

According to Masington, the city informs the community about crime trends through various programs, including neighborhood crime watch meetings.

Salerno told Local 10 the city sends information through e-mail subscription alerts. He cited a recent announcement about a fraud case as an example.

"A lot of crimes are petty. You wouldn't put out an alert to the whole community because it's sort of like crying wolf. If we do it every single time there's a crime in this city, nobody would ever pay attention to it."

Local 10's Vazquez asked Masington for an invite to the police department's upcoming community outreach events. At last check, he was working on making that happen so Local 10 can show how the city is working to communicate with its community about crime trends.

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