Ocean Drive's Police Squad Seized a Half-Pound of Cocaine, Four Pounds of Weed Last Year

Two years ago, amid a spike in crime on South Beach's iconic Ocean Drive, the city assigned eight police officers to patrol the street from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The city says the Ocean Drive Squad is "the centerpiece of the department's efforts to address crime and other challenges facing Ocean Drive."

Now, Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales has revealed those cops' drug and arrest haul for 2016: According to a letter Morales sent the Miami Beach City Commission Tuesday, the Ocean Drive Squad brought in 181 grams of cocaine (roughly 0.4 pounds), 1,784 grams of marijuana (a shade more than four pounds), and made 513 arrests. Of those arrested, 204 were brought in for felonies.

That seems like a lot of dope, but upon closer examination, those seizure figures are a bit small compared to the amount of drugs that pass through Miami Beach every day. It's likely a half-pound of cocaine or more passes through the area most weekend nights. Miami cops routinely intercept multiton cocaine shipments floating across the ocean, and one can fit a half-pound of coke inside a one-gallon ziplock bag.

For size-comparison purposes, a 24-year-old woman was arrested last year for trying to smuggle a half-pound of cocaine inside her vagina through John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City.

Officer Ernesto Rodriguez, a Miami Beach Police spokesperson, tells New Times the department is proud of the work its Ocean Drive Squad has accomplished all year.

According to Morales' letter, the cops encountered a veritable Lucky Charms box of drugs in a single year while walking the Ocean Drive beat: In addition to making garden-variety cocaine and weed seizures, the cops also took 25 grams of MDMA (AKA Ecstasy or molly), ten grams of Oxycontin pills, a comparatively whopping 61 grams of Xanax, and 1.2 grams of Klonopin. The cops also nabbed a single gram of crystal meth.

In addition to finding drugs, the officers also recovered 12 guns, confiscated $12,854, and issued 353 traffic tickets.

If the haul seems on the small side, that might also be due to the squad's relative size and hours: The group of eight cops works four days a week.

According to Morales' letter, that's set to change, though: As of mid-February, a second, five-person unit will begin patrolling Miami Beach's most famous street Saturday through Tuesday. That's because Ocean Drive's overall crime problem has grown in the past year, with multiple wild shootouts in early-morning hours.

Asked if the department is adding units because of the latest violent crime outbreak, Rodriguez disagrees, saying instead the department simply wants to maintain a seven-day police presence on the street because "crime happens seven days a week."

But in the two years since the squad was introduced, Ocean Drive's reputation with locals has only continued to sour. For years, the city's older residents, who own some of the bars in town, have become increasingly upset at the clientele frequenting the street. (It's worth noting that Ocean Driver defenders say some of that backlash is racist; many critics tend to use coded language to refer to black tourists and complain about hearing "loud hip-hop music" or seeing "cars with big rims" rolling down Ocean Drive.)

But crime against tourists has also become a real concern in recent years: After a string of robberies in 2016, including one robbery that ended in a rape, Beach officials began asking tourists to stay off the sand after dark, and sent a series of "elite" robbery squads out to patrol South Beach last June. But according to city stats, those cops haven't turned up many would-be robbers; they mostly just arrested petty drug criminals.
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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.