Cops Say Crime Is Actually Dropping on Ocean Drive, Contradicting Every Beach Politician

The way Miami Beach city commissioners tell it, Ocean Drive — the most famous street in Miami — has turned into a literal war zone. Drug dealers are roaming the streets, thieves are clubbing old ladies over the head, and you might lose your life if you hang out on the tourist-heavy street on the wrong night.

The list of proposals to combat that alleged crime wave is long: Commissioner Michael Grieco essentially wants to ban black people from celebrating on the Beach during Memorial Day weekend; Mayor Philip Levine wants to roll back "last call" for drinks on the street from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m.; and Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez has pitched giving cops "back their bullets," letting them work additional off-hours security detail, removing police body cameras, and ostensibly letting cops shoot more criminals dead.

But none of those politicians has bothered to cite any actual year-over-year crime statistics to back up their claims that Ocean Drive is plummeting into chaos. Had they bothered to do so, they'd be forced to quiet down: According to a letter City Manager Jimmy Morales sent the city commission Tuesday, crime on Ocean Drive has actually been dropping steadily since 2013. In fact, crime took a steep nosedive in 2016 and the first half of 2017.

Within the Ocean Drive policing area, major crimes — including murder, manslaughter, rape, assault, burglary, and larceny — dropped 15.86 percent in 2016. In the first half of 2017, incidences of those crimes dropped an additional 11.14 percent.

"Major Index Crime citywide decreased 12 percent from 2013 to 2016," Morales wrote, citing figures the police department gave him. "Major crime declined 6 percent in 2016 alone."

Granted, the figures come from Miami Beach Police, which has a vested interest in making it look like they're doing a good job. But no matter the source, the stats are the only hard data the public has received so far about crime on Ocean Drive. It's important to note that the city's total property crime rate per 100,000 people — about 9,000 — is extremely high when compared to other cities around the country.

In her much-maligned email leaked to the media last week, Rosen Gonzalez criticized Police Chief Dan Oates for not properly motivating his officers to combat what she claimed was spiking crime in South Beach. The figures Oates' departments provided to Morales directly rebut Rosen Gonzalez's claims.

The newly released data doesn't include any sort of comparison between the major crime rates on Ocean Drive or across the city today contrasted with ten or 20 years ago. As of 2015, the citywide crime rate was roughly 10,000 "major" crimes per 100,000 people.

But according to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the city's crime rate was 1.5 times higher (roughly 15,000 crimes per 100,000 residents) throughout the crime-and-drug-fueled '80s. Likewise, crime was 1.5 times worse in 2000 than it is today. Though the citywide crime rate did shrink by almost 50 percent in the mid-2000s, the rate has remained roughly the same from 2009 until 2015.

According to the FDLE's most recent reports from 2015, major crimes in Miami Beach dropped 3.2 percent from the previous year. That being said, Miami Beach did have the second-highest crime rate in the county per 100,000 people, second only to Florida City. (That doesn't count the 838-person town of Medley, a small sliver of land west of Hialeah, which has a disproportionately high crime rate because of its tiny population.) As of 2015, Miami Beach had a rate roughly twice as high as the City of Miami's, largely due to Miami Beach's huge number of petty, tourism-related thefts. Violent crime rates were roughly equal between the two towns, FBI data showed. Nationally, violent crime is nearing all-time lows in the United States.

(Due to what seems to be an uploading error, the full 2016 Ocean Drive crime statistics were not included in Morales' letter. We've asked for the full stats from the city.) Last week, the Miami Herald pinned much of the hysteria around Ocean Drive to the fact that crowds are growing: Memorial Day travel demands have spiked 23 percent on the island since 2012, and the Beach has also grown into one of the most popular spring break destinations in America over the past decade.

But between the FDLE's data and the figures Morales cited, it seems irresponsible for politicians to claim Miami Beach has suddenly become a den of unprecedented violence. According to Beach PD, crime rates have dropped since 2013, but you're not likely to hear that fact from anyone running for office.

"There are thugs on the streets," Commissioner Rosen Gonzalez told New Times last week. "There are people selling drugs openly on the streets in plain view when you walk down Ocean Drive. Why is that happening?"

Mayoral candidate Dan Gelber — who has run a contentious, mud-slinging campaign against Grieco thus far — has also referred to Ocean Drive as a crime-ridden cesspool too dangerous for tourists.

"This is not a Memorial Day issue; it is an every day issue," he wrote in a June 5 campaign email. "Shootings, stabbings and drug dealing have become far too commonplace."

In his letter to the commission, Morales did seem to imply that Levine's proposal to limit alcohol sales to before 2 a.m. might have some merit: From June 2015 to 2016, a full 26 percent of the violent crime that occurred in the South Beach "entertainment district" happened after the 2 a.m. cutoff. But rolling back liquor sale times remains a contentious proposition. Bar owners hate the move because it would cut deeply into sales, and tourists and partying locals aren't happy because Miami remains one of the few U.S. cities where bars stay open past 2 in the morning.

Yesterday the city commission said it would let voters decide on a November ballot whether to roll back last call — thus letting the majority of Beach residents choose what type of city they'd like to live in.

For now, however, the newly released crime stats show that politicians aren't giving the public the full picture when it comes to Ocean Drive.
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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.