After String of Robberies, Police Beef Up Ocean Drive Patrols, Round Up Drug Criminals

Miami Beach Police issued a dire warning to residents last week: Stay off the beach when the sun goes down. The alert came after a string of high-profile robberies culminated in a Texas woman's sexual assault by a trio of men on the beach after dark. They also robbed her.

The alleged perpetrators have since been caught, but that wasn't the only tack MBPD took to stemming the tide of crime. The force also seriously beefed up nighttime patrols around South Beach, beginning June 22, according to a letter sent to Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine yesterday.

In what's been dubbed "Operation Strike-Back," scores of "elite" robbery squads, "multi-skilled patrol teams," and undercover narcotics investigators have been put on high alert and are getting paid overtime to work the crackdown.  

The results of that operation, though, raise questions about MBPD's priorities. Stats from the department show that Strike-Back mostly resulted in the arrests of low-level drug criminals.

The crackdown began last weekend and has netted 40 arrests so far, City Manager Jimmy Morales writes in the memo. An entire squad, consisting of seven cops and one sergeant, was deployed, on overtime pay, on their weekend days off last Sunday and Monday to the area around Ocean Drive.

"Overlap" officers were moved from other areas of Miami Beach down to the South Beach area around midnight each night. The department's elite "Crime Suppression Team" dedicated to "disrupting troubling new crime patterns" was moved — again, on overtime pay — to areas around the Beach. The department's "elite robbery squad," which typically works until 3 a.m. each night, had its hours extended to 5 a.m., while a string of detectives also had its hours extended until 5 in the morning.

All of those officers were also getting paid overtime. (Cops with license-plate readers — a controversial tactic used during Memorial Day weekend — were also deployed in the "early-morning hours" to hunt for would-be robbers.)

"This initiative will be continued indefinitely," Morales writes. Police spokesperson Ernesto Rodriguez declined to speak about the operation.

It's a crackdown sure to help calm frayed nerves amid the robbery spree — and to appease those who say Ocean Drive has become too fraught with petty crime. 

But stats from the operation show that all of those elite officers racked up only drug arrests, most of them minor. In all, 40 people were arrested for drug crimes during the sting.

Three were arrested for cocaine possession with intent to distribute, 11 were arrested for marijuana possession with intent to distribute, five were caught with cocaine, and 21 — more than half the total so far — were simply nabbed for marijuana possession. (Though Miami-Dade County recently adopted a $100 fine for marijuana possession, people carrying 20 grams or more can still be criminally charged.) Some of those arrested were also carrying concealed weapons.

The roundup comes at a time when the future of Ocean Drive's den-of-iniquity status is up for debate. Residents flooded city email inboxes with complaints after legendary strip club King of Diamonds was rumored to be opening a location on Ocean Drive. In May, the Miami Beach City Commission banned sidewalk alcohol sales after 2 a.m.

As such, according to Morales' memo, the department is planning a massive overhaul of its entire South Beach operation. The department believes the patrol area around South Beach is "too large and unwieldy to direct properly and efficiently, as it currently counts for 46 percent of calls for service," the memo says.

The department instead wants to create a smaller "Entertainment District" police command, which would stretch from the beach to the west side of Washington Avenue and from Fifth to 15th Street.

The proposed shift would move 51 cops from other areas into the new district and add 12 proposed new hires. The entire move would cost $1,140,453 its first year and $1,176,837 the second year. 

Here's a copy of the memo:

(H/T to Random Pixels)
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.