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Miami Beach Police Plays Mind Games Using Fake Cop Cars

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So you're speeding down the MacArthur Causeway in your beat-up Toyota when you spot a Miami Beach Police cruiser. Only it's the same cop car you've seen there for the past month. It hasn't moved an inch. It's been glistening in the morning, slumbering at night -- but there's no driver. Where could the officer be? Pee break? Lost? Beating up a gay in Flamingo Park?

Turns out there is no driver. The car -- which was parked at the Palm Island entrance but recently removed -- was one of six decoys those hucksters at the Miami Beach Police Department have scattered across the city to spook speeders. It was the vehicular equivalent of a cop with a big stick -- an intimidating reminder, like a bad hangover, to take it easy. Call it the boogeyman strategy.

"If there's a police car behind you on the highway, don't you slow down?" asked Deborah Doty, an officer at community affairs, which selects locations for the cars. "It's a deterrent."

The dummy cop car on the MacArthur had been there for so long it had become as much of a fixture along the highway as the cruise ships at the port. But

last week, it disappeared. Police decided to move it a week after

Riptide began asking questions. Fake cop cars are their black sites,

you see.

"Providing your agency with the information sought will render our Decoy Program useless, which is a viable technique used by the department to stop certain crimes from occurring," spokesman Juan Sanchez says.

Decoys have been used here for at least 22 years, he says. They are drivable but old cars that otherwise would have been retired from the fleet. Locations are usually chosen based on traffic or crime stats. But residents can also request to have a decoy moved to their neighborhood, which explains the empty cruiser at the entrance of that cesspool of illicit activity known as Palm Island.

The fakes have been effective for the Beach police, Doty says. In areas where the cars are visible, patrols issue fewer citations. But the department has little company in its cop-car mind games. The last mention we could find of the City of Miami using decoys was 1986, when they were deployed in Coconut Grove, according to the Miami Herald. Spokesman William Moreno says he's never heard of anything like it. And at the county PD, spokeswoman Aida Fina-Milian was left scratching her head: "To my knowledge, we don't have anything like that." 

When we inquired about the missing cop car on the MacArthur, Doty declined to say whether the move had anything to do with our questions. So we set out to find another decoy this past Thursday night. It didn't take long. A helpful Miami Beach Police night guard on Palm Island tipped us off. Write it down, readers: Alton Road and Lakeview Drive, in front of a monument of Carl Graham Fisher, a Miami Beach real estate magnate and one of the founders of the Indianapolis 500. The irony!

At night, the soft glow from the monument was reflected in the darkly tinted windows of the immaculate Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. Nobody slowed down.

A challenge: If you spot other decoys, report back in the comments section.

[erik.maza@miaminewtimes.com | on twitter]

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