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Oliver Gilbert talks troubles facing his city

Goals include increased safety and better police-citizen relations

D. Kevin McNeir | 12/17/2013, 1:11 p.m.
Gilbert

Since mid-summer, Miami Gardens has had more than its share of violence, including an 11-day period during which time 10 people were shot. Readers may recall our lead story in October which asked if, based on recent data, it was appropriate to refer to the mostly-Black City as “South Florida’s murder capital?” Now with a recent lawsuit filed by a local store owner along with several of his customers and employees who allege harassment and racial profiling by Miami Gardens police, both the City and its recently-elected mayor, Oliver Gilbert, find themselves with a severely damaged image.

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Gilbert

But Gilbert says he didn’t run for mayor in order to be popular. Rather he states he ran for office because he thought he could make Miami Gardens “a better place to live.” And he adds that’s just what he intends to do.

“Some ask me if what we’re dealing with now are inherited problems from the previous administration [Mayor Shirley Gibson],” he said. “I think Gibson and the council did the best they could for a brand new city. What we’re facing now are cumulative problems and the leadership of today must stay on course. There’s a new mayor and a new city manager and we both realize that rhetoric won’t fix our problems.”

Gilbert added that one of his first tasks is to change the structure of the police department as well as the requirements for one being hired as an officer.

“The Department was established in 2007 and back then an officer had to be certified,” he said. “That meant we were guaranteed experienced officers but it also meant that many of them were coming from other departments and areas — some knowing very little about what life is like in Miami Gardens. In hindsight, I may have required that only half of the officers be certified — it would have definitely helped our budget because we had to take on the salaries they were making before joining our force. The other half would have been new officers, trained right here that also live in Miami Gardens. That’s the direction in which we’re headed today — hiring new young people who are eager to make this a safer community who are from this community and want a career not just a job.”

Controversy over zero tolerance

A growing number of residents or visitors to Miami Gardens have noted that they are being pulled over by police for no apparent reason. In fact, the mayor and police department have been hit with a federal civil rights lawsuit that alleges aggressive police tactics including stop-and-frisk searches and arbitrary arrests that target Blacks. And while Gilbert could not speak to the pending lawsuit, he did say there are several ways to look at the City’s trespass policy.

“The current policy allows our officers to redirect people off of property where it appears that they are trespassing [loitering] and that’s to keep people safe,” he said. “Of course officers also have to respect people’s civil rights. As it relates to the pending lawsuit, I believe that the facts will come out in court at which time they [the court] and our city manager will make their determinations. In the past five or six years, we have followed an enhanced policing strategy and are arresting people for every possible violation: gambling in the open, gun possession, using drugs in public, even broken tail lights. Why? Because we noticed a general lack of respect for the law. We want to make the people that are committing crimes feel uncomfortable.”

Gilbert says the average number of homicides over the last three years has been around 25 but he says that’s still too high for liking.

“We have 110,000 people in Miami Gardens but 25 young Black men killed in one year is too high for me,” he said. “We have to redirect the energy of our youth. That’s why we decided to use bond money to activate our parks and reengage our young people, getting them off the streets. And we’re bringing in 11 new officers too — all of whom will be current residents of Miami Gardens. No one said this would be easy but we’re committed to finding ways to reduce crime and increase safety.”