MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The shocking images of brazen gunmen and piercing sounds of gunfire rattling neighbors across Miami-Dade in recent days elevate a discussion already underway in the county about investing millions of dollars in a multi-pronged gun violence prevention plan.
The money comes from FTX’s purchase of naming rights of the county-owned arena in downtown Miami where the Miami Heat plays. FTX is a cryptocurrency exchange.
According to the “Peace & Prosperity Plan” obtained by Local 10 News from the office of Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, there has been a 45% increase in homicides since 2016. The plan also says that “nearly one in four victims in 2020 was younger than 21 years old.”
Miami-Dade County Commissioners are expected to vote on the plan later this month.
Describing gun violence as a “public health epidemic” the report outlines five key impact areas to address the “root causes” of gun violence to include a focus on educational opportunities for at-risk youth, job training, housing investments, business development, and community beautification.
Summer jobs for at-risk youth
The plan calls for a more $ 1 million investment as soon as this summer into the county’s existing Fit2Lead Fellowship Program, which identifies paid internships and jobs for at-risk youth. The plan says the money could mean the program could “serve 500 additional youth in summer 2021 to have an immediate impact in high-risk neighborhoods.”
There is a proposed $800,000 earmarked for a summer youth internship program in partnership with a variety of community groups to include the Children’s Trust and Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Police and community leaders have told Local 10 News they anticipate that the number of gun violence cases could spike this summer.
Year 1 of the Peace & Prosperity gun violence prevention plan also calls for $30,000 for the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Athletic League Program and $44,00 for the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Turn Around Police Academy, “an 11-week program designed to support positive youth behaviors and encourage community service.”
There is also a recommendation to invest $50,000 for an “Independent Evaluator” targeting “three indicators: 1) reduction in homicides, 2) reduction in contact shooting, and, 3) recidivism rates among program’s participants.
Experts weigh in
Local 10 News sent the plan to three experts to get their take on the proposal.
FORMER MIAMI POLICE CHIEF
“I’m happy to see that the county wants to put forth a plan that attacks the issue in so many different ways,” former Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said. “I applaud Miami-Dade County for recognizing the seriousness of this problem and wanting to do something about it and rallying many different people around this issue because that’s really what it’s going to take, an all hands on deck approach and tackling it from every angle.”
The law enforcement veteran retired in February after serving as the city’s top cop for three years.
Colina says one crucial component will be ensuring that there are “real measurable benchmarks” along the way to ensure that clear data points determine if the programs are working, especially given the amount of money being allocated.
“How do you define success? I think it’s critical that they have an element that measures legitimately if young people in the program are doing better than they were before the program,” he said.
He also added, “I think it’s important to recognize that no matter how much intervention, how much prevention, evil exists, and some people are going to commit horrific acts of violence. In those cases, the only way to deal with that is with strict gun law sentences. If you commit a crime and you were armed with a gun it should be severe punishment.”
CRIME VICTIM ADVOCATE & COMMUNITY ACTIVIST
“Prevention is needed,” said Florida Parents of Murdered Children Founder Tangela Sears. “Re-entry programs are also important; however I always think there is something missing” when a plan does not address additional resources needed to support a multi-agency task force to get “killers off the street.”
“There is no prevention for a killer, there is jail,” she said, “so what is the plan to put the killers in jail?”
Of the recent uptick in shooting investigations, Sears added, “this is getting outrageous, it is increasing daily, and that is because there are no consequences for their actions.”
The longtime crime victim advocate and community activist recently spoke at a news conference hosted by Miami Police in May when the department’s new chief announced a 90-day initiative to step up patrols in areas of the city that are hot spots for gun violence. Areas that will be targeted include Little Havana, Model City, Little Haiti, Overtown, and Allapattah, which they said combined account for more than 80% of the gun violence in the city.
Both Colina and Sears said from their experience, a child’s early life is crucial. Sears said it would be great to see an investment in conflict resolution training for elementary-aged school children in public schools. Colina said that “when I say youth I mean as early as the second grade. We know that when kids are doing well in school they’re more likely to have productive lives without committing a crime, we’ve got to start early and then stay with it.”
Alexis Piquero, chair of the sociology department at the University of Miami and a renowned criminologist, consulted on part of the Peace & Prosperity plan and said what he likes about the approach is that it is “multi-faceted” and centered on “prevention of violence, intervention among at-risk and/or current offenders, and re-entry back into society.”
Piquero has helped develop several plans like this before to include most recently in Dallas for Mayor Eric Johnson, where he says he was a member of the city’s Task Force on Safe Communities.
“Some of the key features I like in this plan,” Piquero said, “include the use of Fit2Lead which focuses on both internships and jobs side-by-side with cognitive and social skills training. I also like the incorporation of Project Green Light which focuses on installing cameras and lighting.”
Year 2 of the Peace & Prosperity plan proposes spending $300,000 on a partnership between local businesses, property owners, and community groups in high crime areas to install real-time cameras connected to police headquarters in what is called Project Green Light.
“Evidence shows that improved lighting (and reducing blight) helps local communities and the installation of cameras helps in detecting crime as they happen,” Piquero explained. “Many of these strategies are not just top-down — they involve the cooperation and partnership of and with the local community and faith-based leaders. Evidence shows that these kinds of partnerships or coalitions are quite effective.”
The second year of the plan also calls for a $341,676 investment in Miami-Dade Police Department Intelligence Analysts to assist with cybercrime investigations and the “rapid identifications of suspects.”
“What I see here is a strong bedrock of evidence-based strategies aimed at people and places, attacking the problem now while simultaneously investing in the future,” Piquero said. “You have to address gun violence in a myriad of ways and that includes doing what we can, on a larger level, to help youth envision a future and not just a life that lives in the present.”
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