Barring Inquiry

Federal agents probe a local neighborhood's recent vote to install barricades and guardhouses

Ciasca says he recently learned about a hardship exemption available to people who can't afford the special tax. But according to Marie Helene Cohen, chief of the Special Taxing District Division, it's two months too late for that: Hardship exemptions must be filed at the time of the Metro Commission's public hearing.

Aside from the cost of the guardhouses, opponents are dubious of their value as crime deterrents. "I don't see any ability of a guardhouse to ward off crime," comments a long-time resident of Enchanted Lake who didn't want his name published. He says his wife was mugged on their front lawn this past year. "A guardhouse would make it harder to get into the neighborhood, but they would just walk through our back yard," says the man, who contends that much of the neighborhood's vulnerability to crime is due to its accessibility by water. "For us it's no good. I can't afford another two grand."

Those in favor of the guardhouse proposal insist that it is tailored to cut down on the crimes the neighborhood has been experiencing lately, which have nothing to do with the canals. "Several women have been followed home from the grocery store and mugged at gunpoint," says resident Jeffrey Herman, an attorney. "I think crime in our neighborhood has definitely increased. I was told last year that one out of every two of these homes was the victim of crime." Herman could not remember who provided that data. ("I find that very hard to believe," says Det. Marie Duboulay, a Metro-Dade police spokeswoman. Adds Duboulay, who examined a compilation of police calls in the area dating back to May 5: "I would say they've had their fair share of crime, but if you compare it to other neighborhoods on the north side, they're very low, so they're still a plus as far as safe neighborhoods.")

Two studies were undertaken a few years ago to examined the effect of street closures on crime in the recently barricaded Miami Shores area. Both concluded that barricades had a minimal effect, but a deterrent one. "I think what barricades did more than reduce the incidence of crime was to reduce the fear of crime," says Paul Cromwell, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Miami who authored one of the studies. In nearby Shorecrest, however, the Miami Police Department found that many types of crime -- including burglaries, assaults, and car thefts -- increased during the four-month period immediately after barricades were installed there in September 1994.

Metro commissioners have given CGR Construction Co. the thumbs-up to build the two guardhouses in Enchanted Lake, where work is set to begin in October.

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