The Biscayne Times

Jun 19th
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Written by John Ise, BT Contributor   
February 2017

Put those crime reports in perspective

IJohn_Isle_2-17n late October 2016, video cameras captured an armed robbery near the Miami Shores Starbucks in broad daylight. The assailant robbed a local resident of $30,000 worth of jewelry, credit cards, and cash. That same month, outside the same Starbucks, Mayor Alice Burch was the victim of a high-profile purse snatching.

In November there was the terrible home invasion of a Miami Shores resident who was himself taken at gunpoint to a local ATM and forced to withdraw cash from his account.

Perusing the e-mail/text advisories and alerts from Miami Shores Police, residents can read a new crime report/advisory every couple of days.

Luckily, almost all of these crimes are resolved with apprehension of the guilty parties. In response to the holiday uptick in criminal activity, our Miami Shores Police activated an increased patrolling presence, the addition of officers, and extended hours for all officers. In addition, there is some consideration of installing closed-circuit television cameras throughout the Village.

The police department has made a concerted effort to establish a more regular stream of communication with residents via the text/e-mail system whereby Miami Shores residents can receive alerts about criminal activity and incidents.

The police are also using social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, and NextDoor, to keep residents in the loop. And Police Chief Kevin Lystad has been hosting monthly “Chief Chat” coffee socials at the country club and on Facebook for residents who wish to bring up their questions and concerns directly with him on policing efforts.

But with every criminal incident in the Village now being broadcast via text, e-mail, and various social media platforms, some people are beginning to…well…freak out. When I look on Facebook and NextDoor, I can understand that there’s a growing villager sense we are under siege and that Miami Shores has become a dangerous community. More than one resident has declared the intent to move out of the Village because of safety concerns.

The trauma of being a victim of crime is real, jarring, and should never be dismissed. About 18 years ago, I was carjacked by a gang in Port-au-Prince, on my way to the airport to pick up medicine for a children’s hospital. Afterward, I admit, I had the darkest fantasies of how I could seek revenge on the perpetrators. The saying that “a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged” carries a certain primal truth. (Although it’s also said that a liberal is a conservative who’s been arrested.)

But emotions and empathy aside, I urge residents to gain a proper perspective. Make yourself some herbal tea, practice meditative breathing, and chill out!

The long-term crime statistics for Miami Shores provide us with a much healthier dose of perspective, and even some relative optimism. In 2002, for example, Miami Shores had 145 burglaries, compared to 99 in 2016. In 2002 there were 41 robberies, as opposed to 27 last year. Continuing, there were 478 incidents of theft in 2002 whereas we had 351 last year.

Overall, the crime index in 2002, according to the statistics website, was 550, compared to 394 in 2014 (a higher number means more crime of a variety of tracked categories; the U.S. average was 288 in 2014.)

Zooming outward, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, “the national crime rate today is about half what it was at its height in 1991. Violent crime has fallen by 51 percent since 1991, and property crime by 43 percent. In 2013 the violent crime rate was the lowest since 1970. And this holds true for unreported crimes, as well. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, since 1993 the rate of violent crime has declined from 79.8 to 23.2 victimizations per 1000 people.

So why now do we feel unsafe and under siege? Local TV news devotes more time to crime stories than any other forms of news programming. Switch on Channel 7 news, and chances are you’ll find Belkys Nerey yammering away on some sensationalized “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” crime story, replete with swooping graphics backed by a dramatic soundtrack.

The panic that grips you watching the streams of these crime segments will shortly be replaced with the sensation of your brain cells dying. The late Jason Ditton, a pioneer in criminology, found that 45 percent of crimes reported in the media involve sex or gratuitous violence, even though sex and violence factor into only three percent of all crime.

Enter social media, of course, and now we receive a steady stream of crime alerts and news on our smart phones -- and in turn we broadcast these occurrences via Facebook, Nextdoor, Twitter, e-mail, and whatever other networks we have.

With the populous demanding more information from our local police on all crime occurring and in turn the amplification of that information, it’s no wonder so many of us are freaking out and crawling into the fetal position.

Mayor Alice Burch, a victim of the earlier described robbery, bluntly says, “People are having difficulty handling the quantity of information…giving the impression we are under attack.”

Now, none of this is to suggest we should be blissfully ignorant to the real threat that crime poses. After all, we do live in Miami, one of those sunny places for shady people.

A recent Village newsletter called for residents to initiate a Neighborhood Watch in which people would be trained to observe and report suspicious activity. But more important, it connects neighbors to one another.

The title of political economist Francis Fukuyama’s book Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity captures a missing ingredient in modern life. We trust our institutions and one another less and less. Polling shows only a third of respondents feel they can “trust most people.” This hurts, as our psychological well-being is dependent upon trusting relationships. If neighborhood watch or block parties or informal get-togethers begin to build those connections, a predictive by-product may be we look out for one another and deter crime.

The late writer and urban activist Jane Jacobs wrote that in order for neighborhoods to be safe, “there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street.” Neighborhood Watch may be a piece of that, but it’s not enough.

Pulling away from the isolating, anti-social glare of a high-tech screen that warps our perception of reality, and replacing it with real interactions via walking your dog, chatting with your neighbors, playing with your kids -- that will provide a safer community, not to mention a healthier outlook on life.

To fight crime, don’t lose your marbles. Be vigilant and informed, and remain adamantly unafraid.


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