Rift Develops Between Miami Beach Police Department and Vigilante Group

John Deutzman and Michael DeFilippi launched the Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness Facebook group.
John Deutzman and Michael DeFilippi launched the Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness Facebook group. Photo by Laura Morcate
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 chief accused group members of posting a photo of an undercover cop they thought was a drug dealer, thus blowing the operation. In a lengthy email to the mayor and commissioners, Deutzman vigorously denied those claims.

"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 re:Miami Beach. "As an administrator of the group and one of the founding fathers, I am shocked and puzzled by his decision. At the heart of it is a dispute between the chief and our other administrator Jeff Pose. The chief was understandably furious about an incident that occurred on Thursday, January 31st. However, his anger arose from horribly wrong facts."

In an interview last week, Oates declined to discuss the undercover operation, what led to the dispute, or how Pose had put police officers in jeopardy. He said discussing what happened "just further exposes the officers." He said he's spoken with the group and hopes cooler heads will prevail in time. (Pose, for his part, declined to comment, telling New Times he has "a lawyer involved.")

"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 poor, since the wealthy can buy their way out. The group's advocacy led to the hiring of a prosecutor who targets those who violate city laws. A Miami Herald investigation found that the majority of the people being prosecuted are homeless.

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."

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. (DeFilippi said in an email he wanted to refocus on environmental issues, and was himself removed from Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness.)

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 Pose, and to have the police department personnel restored to the group. 

"Who knew that social media could have such an impact on policing?" he wrote. 
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas