Fistfights and Car Break-ins: New Cops Tackle Small-Time Nightclub Crime

Eight cops are lined up like a troop of soldiers on a gum-stained sidewalk across from Club Space. Wanda Mendez, a City of Miami Police officer with perfect posture and short brown hair, hollers assignments over the thump of car stereos. "We're all gonna back each other up!" she says. "Our concerns are anyone who looks suspicious: anyone harassing residents or breaking into cars."

It's roll call on March 25, the first big night of Winter Music Conference. It's also the scene of a new experiment. Miami Police just amped the number of officers in Park West, a booze-soaked strip of after-hours clubs. The district -- along with downtown -- now has eight more cops during peak nightlife hours.

Last weekend was the first time they hit the streets. Here's how it went, according to Officer Jeffery Glasko:

"During the times the enhanced services were available, only one vehicle was broken into, a few minor disturbances were reported... no rescue runs were observed."

For months, national media outlets -- correctly or not -- have linked the Paula Sladewski murder to Club Space, where she disappeared. But while her case got endless publicity, the bigger problem in Park West is small-time crime. From 2006 to 2009, police reported at least 1,144 crimes "directly associated with nightclubs" in the district. Most were disturbances and batteries.

Neighbors have argued for years that nightclub owners in Park West -- who score tax breaks from the city and eat up police resources -- owe it to the city to turn down the noise and improve security.

A report from the City of Miami shows violent crimes have gone down since 2006. But the hood is still far from safe.

The enhanced police services will be in effect again this weekend from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. Officers will patrol these three areas: I-395 north to NE 17th Street, I-395 to NE Fifth Street, and NE Fifth Street to the Miami River.

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