Since its launch about a year and a half ago, a controversial Facebook-based vigilante group called Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness has been lauded by city leaders for its efforts to fight crime. Despite concerns from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, it has been awarded a certificate of appreciation by the city and was name-dropped by Mayor Dan Gelber in his December State of the City address as "incredibly vigilant and effective."
But this week, amidst a shakeup in the group's leadership, Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates informed the mayor and commissioners that many of the police officers in the group's secret Facebook group had been suddenly kicked out, and no one in police department leadership could vouch for the material on its page. The new leader, Jeff Pose, had more than once engaged in conduct that "endangered our officers," Oates said.
John Deutzman, a Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness founder, claimed the rift developed after the
"The police chief has decided to terminate the unofficial partnership between his department and the Facebook group known as 'Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness Group,'" he wrote in an email first reported by
In an interview last week, Oates declined to discuss the undercover operation,
"These folks — Mr. Deutzman, Mr. Pose, and others who have been involved with us — we've accomplished a lot of good things, and I want to get back to that kind of relationship," Oates said. "I'm just kind of saddened by the whole thing."
As New Times reported last year, the Facebook group was started by Deutzman and activist Michael DeFilippi in July 2017 to tackle what residents saw as an uptick in crime. On the group page, which is invite-only and unsearchable, members share crime statistics, photos, and information about people they believe to be committing crimes. They also advocate for new legislation.
But some of the group's tactics and attitudes are troubling. Before being booted from the group last year, New Times documented members suggesting running civilian stings or trying to inflict pain on suspected criminals. Members have displayed hostility toward the homeless, and past street patrols have seemed to focus on the homeless or minorities, though Deutzman and DeFilippi strongly deny that.
The group also pushes for higher bonds in court, which means keeping people behind bars even though they have not been convicted; this is a burden endured only by the
The Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office has raised concerns about the group, as has the ACLU. City officials, however, have frequently praised it for helping reduce crime. In an email to residents just last week, Gelber wrote, "Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness has become extremely active and effective at detecting and advocating for safer streets."
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So Oates' email was a marked change. The chief told New Times he asked to meet with Pose to discuss "proper lanes for us to keep in so as to avoid endangering my cops." But Pose, who became the group's leader after the dispute over busting an undercover operation, refused. (
Although Deutzman said Pose feared being arrested, Oates called those fears "ludicrous."
In his email to the mayor and commission, Oates wrote that he asked for two things to resolve the matter: to meet with
"Who knew that social media could have such an impact on policing?" he wrote.