Wind & Rain, Inc.
"And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day
For a little house--a house of my own--
Out of the wind's and the rain's way."
An Old Woman of the Roads, st. 6
Padraic Colum (1881-1972)
TO: Chief John Timoney
FROM: Andy Parrish and Andy Louis-Charles
DATE: January 22, 2003
RE: Problems/Solution for West Coconut Grove
Welcome to Miami, Chief. Wind & Rain has been the only affordable homebuilder in West Coconut Grove since 1994 (for more background, please see windandrain.com). Following, not necessarily in order of importance, are ten thoughts on resolving the drug/crime issue in West Coconut Grove:
1. Perception: While open drug dealing and petty non-violent crime are not to be minimized, the perception that West Grove is besieged with criminal activity is much greater than reality. Even so, the overall seediness of the Grand Ave. and Douglas Rd. commercial arteries, together with the “wannabe” types hanging out with the actual dealers gives the general public the 100% accurate impression that “Yes, somewhere in the next block or two there’s someone dealing crack or pot.”
2. Renters/Homeowners: ALL of the thirteen families who have purchased homes from Wind & Rain will support any and all efforts by the police to eradicate the drug trade, which they know brings down their property values. However, we are sure that a significant minority of renters feel that the drug dealers and trash-strewn lots help to keep outsiders out (thereby arguably keeping property values and rents low). Whether rental or owned, all properties must be constantly subject to both code enforcement and police enforcement, until everyone is on board.
3. Churches. Until just recently, the Grove’s many churches have mostly been very tepid in supporting the police when it comes to the drug trade. This, we think, is because the drug trade has been deeply imbedded in the community, so that all the ministers have some parishioners (or their sons and daughters) who are somehow involved. It also has to do with “fairness” (see 4 below).
4. Fairness. We would say that almost the entire West Grove thinks it unfair that the people living in the community (the Sellers) are constantly being arrested and “stung” while outsiders (the Buyers) are largely ignored. For a short while, under former Commissioner Plummer, there was an effort to confiscate the vehicles of drug buyers purchasing within 500 ft of schools. This was a popular program with West Grovites. When new Commissioner Winton tried to implement the community’s suggestion that the names and addresses of arrested (not convicted) drug Buyers be put in the Neighbors section of The Miami Herald (similar to what The Herald did for arrested “Johns” on Biscayne Blvd a few years back) the effort failed. WHY? Because The Herald said that the drug problem was so bad and widespread that it would take up too much of the newspaper!! This is absurd. Publication of drug Buyers names would get almost 100% support from the West Grove. Every arrest, no matter how small, needs to be publicized, while this war is being waged until we can declare a well earned (and continuing) victory.
5. Police Burn-out and Progress Monitoring. Because arresting petty drug dealers is a bit like shoveling sand against the tide (due to revolving door justice), the officers doing the arresting tend to get burned out over time. But we still need the light to eventually achieve our goal, and when a light bulb burns out, you need to change it. To help fight burn-out, and to give police and community members a sense of progress, progressive goals should be set regularly, monitored by computer, and made available to the public on a monthly basis. The status of those arrested should be updated also. These reports should not be Citywide (…”overall in Miami crime is down __%”…) but made specific to the West Grove. In addition, the notion that “West Grove has always been a drug haven and always will be” needs to be addressed with the police themselves until the desired result is achieved. Officers who do not believe the crime problem can be solved in the West Grove need to be identified and rotated out, from top to bottom.
6. Visibility. The most frustrating thing for the law abiding public is to drive down a public street and be flagged down in broad daylight by an obvious dealer with a hand motion to stop and buy some drugs. Those of us in the know realize that these guys rarely actually have drugs on their person, and when accosted will give some ridiculous but lawful excuse. Likewise, the Buyers invariably say they were merely “asking for directions.” But when the general public sees something so obvious, then they ask, “Why don’t the police do something?” The question should be, “What can the police do that will be effective AND assure the public that the problem is not just being ignored?” Visibility is one answer. Visible police cars parked on the worst corners—and moved as soon as the dealers move. Horse and bicycle patrols. Flashing neon signs on Grand and Douglas (like the MPH signs) that say “Get caught buying drugs and win a free tour of the City Jail.” Make both the Sellers AND the Buyers nervous.
7. Continuous Heat. We know that you can’t exterminate your house one room at a time. You have to tent the whole thing. The Police have said many times that “We’ve driven them off Grand but they’ve just moved on to Thomas and Florida.” We pointed out to the police that every single drug house that WE civilians knew of had a pair of kid’s sneakers hanging from the telephone lines directly in front. This was the signal used in a film like New Jack City some years ago, and apparently viewed by dealers nationwide. We requested the City for over a year to get this “free advertising” removed before it was finally done. Somehow the resources must be found to target Grand and the known residential “hot spots” simultaneously and continuously until the drug trade is forced to move out of the entire community (which, after all, is only about 50 blocks total). The hardest part will be keeping the task force in place long enough to complete the job before another Commissioner wants to move it to his district.
8. Graffiti Busters. The Grove needs a program like Coral Gables already has, whereby any graffiti reported by anyone is painted over with matching paint within 48 hours by a private company paid by the City. This is a key part of the “broken windows” policy—proven to be effective.
9. Education. The Police and Code Enforcement need to assist Community Associations in educating citizens about what each individual can do. For example, there are special “No Trespassing” signs that help police, but few apartment owners know where to get them. Illegal dump sites need signs that say “Reward: Report License Number and Make of Vehicle. Call____________” instead of just “No Dumping.”
10. Community Partnerships. For the first time since we’ve been here, there are community-based organizations that will support the police in this effort (110% if the effort also includes targeting the Buyers as well as the Sellers). Village West Homeowners and Tenants Association, the Coconut Grove Collaborative, the CGLDC, and some of the ministers need to be included in regular strategy sessions with the police. The police may feel that this could compromise their “stings” but the goal should be to stop the drug trade cold, which may or may not include jail sentences for all of the deserving. They’ll leave when they can’t make any money because their Buyers no longer have the feeling “I can certainly, and with little risk of being caught, buy my drugs in the next block or two.”
Chief, if most or all of the above is old news to you, please accept our apology. We appreciate this opportunity to meet with you.