21,000 Code Citations Can't Be Wrong

Three years into the Magic City's battle against illegal minutiae, residents want to know: quality of life? Whose?

Also on the premises of Los Amigos, Alvarez continues, Miami police found illegal gambling machines ("No skills were used or necessary to control the outcome of the game, clearly making the operation of the machine a game of chance in violation of Florida State Statute 849.16."). And, working in an undercover capacity, Alvarez also made one arrest for prostitution ("Defendant agreed to go out to the car and give Sgt. A. Alvarez a blowjob ... she said it would be a hundred dollars.")

The arrest report from Los Amigos of one 49-year-old waitress (b-girls aren't necessarily a-list material) detailed the following system: "While conducting a routine bar check, we discovered a chart detailing a scheme where the bar girls sitting with customers would charge the customer's beer at $3, and the bar girl's beer at $10, each girl being assigned a number. Daily log reflected defendant as employee #8."

"You had to have been here from the beginning to realize the magnitude of the problem," says Major Exposito.

Jonathan Postal
Jonathan Postal

Miami's quality of life campaign is a variation on an anticrime philosophy made famous in Rudy Giuliani's New York. In 1994, then-Mayor Giuliani and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, outlined a campaign based largely on a theory of criminology known as "broken windows," which was first discussed in a 1982 Atlantic Monthly article of the same name by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.

In that essay, the authors argued that a police focus on minor infractions — petty vandalism, public urination, public drinking — would have a great effect on more serious crimes. In 1989 the authors recapped their theory thusly: "If the first broken window is not repaired, then people who like breaking windows will assume that no one cares about the building and more windows will be broken. Soon the building will have no windows. Likewise, when disorderly behavior — say, rude remarks by loitering youths — is left unchallenged, the signal given is that no one cares. The disorder escalates, possibly to serious crime."

Wilson and Kelling recommended a strategy of "problem-oriented" rather than "incident-oriented" policing. (Al Alvarez often refers to himself as a "problem-solving" police officer.) When Giuliani and Bratton first tested this theory in the streets of Manhattan's West Village in 1994, they concentrated on crimes that — while not necessarily dangerous — impinged on residents' sense of safety. They changed zoning laws to cut down on sex shops and strip joints. They prohibited alcohol at street festivals, and cracked down on what the New York Times referred to as "threatening behavior by squeegee users." In Manhattan, joint-smoking college kids, underage drinkers, and public urinaters were suddenly worthy of arrest.

In 1999, the Times reported that the number of misdemeanor cases had soared by 85 percent since the early Nineties. The resulting drop in crime was well documented. So was public outcry. Giuliani's reputation as a tyrant made libertarians from liberals.

In spite of the backlash, authorities in other places noticed the initiative. "Previously there was very little enforcement in our city," Miami Mayor Manny Diaz says. "Politicians every once in a while would raid a place, but you can't just go in and raid a place to get it on the six o'clock news."

So Diaz encouraged a change. "This is a sustained effort until everybody either plays by the rules — or doesn't play by the rules and shuts down."

In other words, attempting to apply a cookie-cutter approach to quality of life in Miami would not succeed without some tweaking.

At the Miami Jewish Home & Hospital for the Aged on NE 2nd Avenue and 52nd Street, a brown speckled hen and her black-feathered companion wander peacefully around a verdant lawn, oblivious to the wheelchairs and slow-moving walkers traversing a nearby sidewalk. A white rooster with a red comb rustles in the bushes of a gazebo; above him a pair of outdoor speakers emits a Muzak rendition of Nino Rota's "Love Theme" from Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet. In the shade of a banyan tree, red hens scratch idly at the ground. Gray pullets scamper and preen. Chickens at the Jewish Home live a happy, pastoral existence, one of sunshine and lush foliage, with a soundtrack of gentle stringed instruments lamenting the follies of youth.

The flock of ten birds fails to notice as three men with long-handled nets edge near, nodding cordially to doctors and attendants as they zero in on their targets. The men wear navy blue polo shirts emblazoned with a drawing of a terrified rooster, under which are written the words: CITY OF MIAMI CHICKEN BUSTERS.

Two years ago, Osvaldo Iglesias, a Miami-Dade fireman, bet East Little Havana NET administrator Pablo Canton he could catch a hen the two observed strutting around the NET office's parking lot. "You catch that chicken," challenged Canton, "and I'll eat it."

Iglesias, a tall and burly joker with glasses and a disarming grin, did exactly that. Although Canton did not make good on his promise, Iglesias, who has raised guinea hens, ostriches, and emus, had an idea. He enlisted fellow fireman Nelly Rivera and Bill Borges, a code enforcement officer, to present an idea to city officials: On a volunteer, biweekly basis, the three would net the homeless chickens of Miami's streets and sell them to area farms as a fundraiser for the Firemen's Benevolent Association.

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