For months, Miami Beach commissioners have been waging war against a crime wave they insist is sweeping the city. They've voted to curb alcohol sales and close the beach earlier, and agreed to let voters decide whether last call on Ocean Drive should come at 2 instead of 5 a.m.
Now they're installing surveillance cameras along the Ocean Drive promenade from Fifth to 15th Streets and plan to expand the coverage area in the future. The move is being made with little fanfare after it was proposed earlier this year by Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, who says the cameras will deter crime.
"We want people to know that if you come to Miami Beach and you're on the Beachwalk, we're watching," she tells New Times, adding that she'd like cameras on every corner of the entertainment district as well.
Other commissioners praised the idea during a Finance and Citywide Projects Committee meeting over the summer. Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán called it "great goodness" and suggested additional cameras be installed farther north.
Cities across the United States have greatly expanded video surveillance in recent years. In Miami, a system of high-power cameras allows police officers the ability to see details as small as numbers on a cell phone.
The ACLU has been tracking what it sees as an alarming trend. The group says that there's no evidence cameras reduce crime and that few checks and balances prevent abuse of the technology. Additionally, surveillance can have a "chilling effect on public life," with people becoming more self-conscious and less freewheeling.
"Although the ACLU has no objection to cameras at specific, high-profile public places that are potential terrorist targets, such as the U.S. Capitol," the group wrote, "the impulse to blanket our public spaces and streets with video surveillance is a bad idea."
Rosen Gonzalez acknowledges privacy concerns, saying, "Is it an ideal situation? I mean, it's not. But we're doing our best to protect residents and tourists, to keep people safe."
Whether crime is up on South Beach is a matter of debate. Though commissioners have said Ocean Drive is seeing a spike, the city's police department cites figures that show major crimes in the area dropped nearly 16 percent in 2016 and an additional 11 percent in the first half of 2017.
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Rosen Gonzalez says she decided cameras were necessary after a woman was attacked with a box cutter and sexually assaulted on the beach last year.
"I heard her story, and I don't want that to happen again," she says.
City officials have included $170,000 in the budget to pay for cameras from Fifth to 15th streets. To cover additional cameras, they might include the costs in an upcoming bond program.
Installing cameras along the Ocean Drive promenade and in the entertainment district, as the Rosen Gonzalez has proposed, would cost close to $1 million, according to a city estimate.