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Written by Christian Cipriani - BT Contributor   
June 2012

All right, so a guy was recently shot dead while trying to eat another man’s face -- crime in Miami-Dade is still nowhere as bad as it once was

 

Urbania_6-12One of the first things I do each morning is whip out my phone and skim sensational headlines in the Daily Mail. The British tabloid’s lurid spin on everything puts even the New York Post to shame. Leave it to Miami, then, to produce a story so jaw-dropping that it doesn’t need spin: “Naked Man Killed by Police Was ‘Eating Face’ Off Victim.”

All of this happened 15 blocks from my condo during the dreaded Urban Beach Week. The perp reportedly lost it on a powerful new form of LSD -- hardly the boozed up, gangland-style gun crime we’ve come to expect on Memorial Day weekend.

The incident came at the tail end of a month of thinking about crime in our area. As I’m wont to do, I like to use this column to explore issues that gnaw at my daily life here in Edgewater. One revolving-door conversation I have with my fiancée, Danielle, is about neighborhood safety. She’s convinced that her quiet, leafy street in Coconut Grove (where I had all the wheels stolen off my car) is much safer than the “ghetto-in-transition” where I’ve lived since 2007, and where -- knock on wood -- I’ve yet to have a bad experience.

There’s a lot of emotion and perception at play in this conversation. We argue like these two neighborhoods represent our personalities, and that’s made picking a place to call home when we’re married all the hairier.

On the second Saturday of May, we took Danielle’s brother and his wife to Wynwood for Art Walk. We were all bemused to realize what a family event it was; they could have taken their two-year-old, no problem. The next night at their parents’ house in West Miami, though, their other brother said, “You were in Wynwood? Are you trying to get shot?”

I’ve been in Miami for seven years, and I’m well aware of its history. But for a lot of people -- especially those who live in the western suburbs -- there is so much opinion on crime and safety. So in the spirit of Freakonomics, I set out to find out how reality measures up to perception.

One thing I was surprised to find was that the early 1980s cocaine cowboy era wasn’t Miami’s most crime-ridden period. The murder rate was at an all-time high, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that we reached our highest rates of robbery, sexual battery, burglary, aggravated assault, auto theft, larceny, and reported crime in general.

During the recent condo boom, from 2006 to 2010, violent crime and robbery actually dropped countywide, and statewide crime is at its lowest rate since 1971, when they started keeping track. This all bodes well for the perception that Miami feels safer than it did in the past, but I looked at the data to see if I’m right, or whether being tall, male, and lucky has insulated me from real experiences with crime.

Last year the police were called to the Wynwood/Edgewater area about 20,000 times. They filed roughly 8500 incident reports and arrested 1600 people. Down in Coconut Grove, there were also about 20,000 calls to police and 1400 arrests, but the police filed 40 percent fewer incident reports.

Compare this to Overtown. Again, around 20,000 calls to police, but the area’s incident report and arrest rates were nearly equal. This suggests that people in Overtown only called the cops when they really needed to. In fact they should probably call the police more, and people in the Grove should call them less.

Most of my research focused on crimes that diminish the quality of life in a neighborhood. This year alone, Edgewater has racked up 100 assaults, 93 burglaries, 37 robberies, and one homicide. Wynwood is averaging 30-50 percentage points higher in all categories, while Coconut Grove has experienced 70-some assaults, 40 burglaries, 20 robberies, and no murders.

Despite the occasional headline about a naked man eating someone’s face, all of Miami-Dade is getting safer -- which is boring for reporters. In April several news outlets picked up on a study that ranked Florida as the fourth-least peaceful state in the U.S. This stat came from the Institute of Economics and Peace, which produced another study that identified the number-one cause of violence: poverty.

But did we really need a study to reveal that? Walk around Miami for an hour to understand the relationship between economic opportunity, desperation, and violent crime. People act according to how much they have to lose, and in Miami that can change in the course of a single city block.

Things are looking up in Miami, but Wynwood/Edgewater is still about twice as dangerous as the Grove. And I still have a fiancée to accommodate, so by this time next year I may well be writing to you from a quiet, leafy street somewhere south of I-95.


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