Miami Beach promotes itself as a haven for progressives, LGBTQ people, and open-minded folks from all over the globe, yet in its recent push to crack down on crime, the city has alarmed civil liberties groups. The city and police department have recently praised the local group Crime Prevention and Awareness, a collection of vigilantes fighting to increase bond amounts for criminals.
Now Miami Beach is proposing yet another expensive upgrade to its arsenal of anti-crime tools, one that might again upset civil liberties activists. The city has put together a plan to install police cameras "on every corner" in South Beach's heavily traveled tourist area stretching from Washington Avenue east to the ocean. A letter from City Manager Jimmy Morales this week estimates the cost at $8 million over the next five years.
That figure includes extra money for new police license-plate readers, which are a far more controversial tool than standard
"This plan will encompass cameras throughout the remainder of the Entertainment District, the Beachwalk/Boardwalk from 17th Street to 87th Terrace, the 41 Street Business District, the North Beach / 71 S
At this point in 2018, it's basically a given that the world's major tourist hot spots are awash in police cameras — law-enforcement officials in both New York City and London oversee surveillance networks that include thousands upon thousands of cameras. Even many progressive activists say the cameras are necessary, but groups such as
Morales writes there are 36 stationary cameras throughout the city — 16 watch over the Ocean Drive/Lummus Park area, and 20 keep tabs on traffic
"In February 2017, Commissioner Rosen Gonzalez requested that the administration explore the possibility of adding additional cameras along the Beachwalk and on every corner of the Entertainment District," Morales writes. "Following a cost analysis by staff, it was determined that the camera-on-every-corner project should best be broken down into three phases: 1) Ocean Drive/ Lummus Park and Beachwalk to 17th Street; 2) Collins Ave
Here's last year's proposed map of the additional cameras:
But the call for additional license-plate readers (LPRs) will cause privacy advocates the most consternation. Cops love the technology because readers can be mounted either on stationary points or on the outside of police
Though police departments maintain that plate readers are extremely useful to find and track criminal suspects, there are already signs that the technology can be put to nefarious use. In January, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement inked a contract to access plate-reader data from Vigilant Solutions, the largest government contractor supplying plate-reading tech to law enforcement agencies.
Morales writes that MBPD operates ten patrol cars with plate readers mounted on the trunk, as well as four fixed, stationary scanning stations. Five more stations are expected to come online in the next 90 days. Other Miami-area police agencies also love surveillance tech: Doral built a huge plate-scanning network last year, and Miami-Dade Police tried to fly a semipermanent, camera-armed spy plane over wide swaths of the county before New Times broke
"The Police Department now routinely relies on this technology to assist with traffic mitigation, crowd control, and crime prevention," Morales wrote. "In addition, the cameras have assisted detectives in nearly every major criminal investigation occurring within the Entertainment District in the past three years. In short, the Police Department considers this technology — and its expansion — a top priority for public safety."