This summer, Miami Police fatally shot four suspects in Liberty City, Overtown, and Little Haiti, raising questions of excessive use of force and calls for Police Chief Miguel Exposito's resignation.
So Exposito could perhaps be excused for playing up the positive this morning at a press conference marking the end to an undercover operation in Liberty City.
In front of two tables covered by seized handguns and assault rifles, Exposito announced the arrest of 14 men and the recovery of 31 illegal firearms. He also said the operation prevented at least three planned shootings before they could take place.
"We saved three lives," Exposito said. "That's what's really important here."
"This was an undercover investigation initiated in the Liberty Square projects in Model City in response to the relentless gang-related shootings that were occurring in that area," he explained. The operation began in April and finished this month, although other investigations stemming from Hammerhead are ongoing.
The 14 arrested are members of the "13th Avenue Hot Boys" and the "13th Court Cowboys," he said. The police chief identified 18-year-old Timothy Smith as the most dangerous of those arrested. Police purchased 17 different guns from Smith, including an assault rifle originally stolen in North Carolina.
The police chief said the operation prevented three specific shootings: one planned for after school at Northwestern High School on April 20; another at Olinda park (NW 53rd and 22nd Ave) on July 28; and a third Aug. 14 at the "Peace in the Hood" event.
Exposito underlined that the arrests took place without confrontation, in contrast to the four deadly police-involved shootings this summer.
"If people are good citizens or bad guys, we certainly don't want to see anyone get killed," he said. "We feel very content that we were able to avoid the individuals from getting killed, regardless of whether they are good people or bad."
The police chief also denied that recent shootings by police officers have poisoned the well of trust between many black Miamians and police, stressing that the arrests were made thanks in part to tips from the Liberty City community. In recent years, police have complained about receiving little help from local residents following the "Liberty City Massacre" in January of 2009 and other shootings.
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"I think (that attitude) has changed," Exposito said.
Asked about the fallout of the police shootings, he defended his officers' decision to use deadly force.
"The officer reacts to whatever the person does," he said. "This is nothing new to this community. I think the media such as yourselves have decided that this is something that is important."