Miami-Dade County will spend millions over the next two years providing jobs to young offenders as part of a long-term effort to reduce shootings in the face of what the county’s top police officer on Tuesday called a “tsunami” of violence.
The expansion of Miami-Dade’s Fit2Lead program is the most expensive short-term element in Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s “Peace and Prosperity Plan,” a spending blueprint proposed before the latest rash of fatal shootings that cast new attention on the county’s chronic dangers from firearms, violence and drive-by gunfire.
Approved Tuesday at a special meeting of the County Commission, the plan spends $7.8 million through 2022 on a mix of summer programs and beefed-up surveillance, including social-media monitoring by police and grants for businesses to install cameras with real-time streams accessible to law enforcement. Most of the money goes to summer and after-school programs, with a focus on teenagers in the county’s juvenile-justice system for past offenses or other legal issues.
On Tuesday, Levine Cava also outlined county spending outside the Peace and Prosperity plan to increase police patrols and surveillance.
More police patrols in Miami-Dade this summer
That includes $2.5 million in overtime for police participating in the new “Operation Summer Heat,” a 12-week effort with more patrols by the county and city police in areas with higher incidents of gunfire. Police are also joining code enforcers to target nightspots operating illegally. Levine Cava noted Miami-Dade inspectors last week closed down the El Mula Banquet Hall — site of a May 30 mass shooting that killed three people and wounded 20 others — over permitting violations.
“What we’re experiencing right now is not typical to other crime waves we’ve seen in our community in the past,” said county Police Director Freddy Ramirez, who reports to Levine Cava. “What you’re seeing is a tsunami reaction from the COVID and reopening — our youth coming out with a lot of angst into our community opening up like the roaring ’20s.”
Levine Cava said Miami-Dade would also deploy more than 200 license-plate readers — often attached to automated speed-detecting displays — designed to flag automobiles registered as stolen or owned by someone sought for arrest. Most of the license-plate readers were approved by prior commission votes and will be installed throughout the summer, according to Miami-Dade police, but about 50 mobile readers are being purchased under the new effort.
“We must stop the bleeding, and then we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Levine Cava told commissioners. “We’re mobilizing all possible resources..”
The Fit2Lead program offers a mix of summer camp and job training, with participants getting counseling and then placement in government and private-sector jobs paying more than $13 an hour.
The arena money will fund 350 slots in the existing program this summer, with priority given to eligible teenagers in areas with the highest incidents of gun violence last year.
Big funding boost for Fit2Lead
“We’re going to be creating new outlets for the highest-risk youth,” Levine Cava told commissioners at a committee hearing ahead of the afternoon vote. “Starting right now — tomorrow. There is no time to waste.”
Of the $7.8 million approved by commissioners through 2022, about $6.9 million goes to youth programs. Of that amount, nearly $5 million goes to Fit2Lead through 2022. That’s expected to pay for an additional 850 Fit2Lead slots through 2022 — including after-school programs. Fit2Lead already exists as a county Parks program, focusing on areas with higher incidents of gun violence.
Desmond Webb, 22, told commissioners he joined Fit2Lead in his senior year of high school and was assigned to an internship with the Parks Department. Webb now earns about $38,000 a year as a parks manager.
“That program really showed me what the county can do,” he said.
An argument over ‘demonizing’ single mothers
The most heated moment of the day came after Commissioner Joe Martinez, a former county police officer, talked about what he saw as the root causes of some gun violence. Ramirez had cited a lack of parental intervention — “No one is at home to stop our youth from making a bad decision.” Martinez expanded on that: “There’s a lot of these homes that are missing their fathers.”
Commissioner Raquel Regalado slammed the comments. “I’ve been a single parent for 13 years,” she said. “I will not sit here while we demonize single mothers. … This is not about single parents. This is about people who need resources.”
Almost all of the spending approved Tuesday comes from arena-rights dollars. Commissioners voted in March to spend $90 million from a 19-year deal with the FTX cryptocurrency exchange on county programs targeting violence and poverty, instead of using the money to cover existing county expenses at the arena.
The Levine Cava administration expects to add some money from other sources — including $150,000 from FTX’s foundation.
Roughly $340,000 of the arena-dollar spending approved Tuesday goes to police, mainly to increase social-media monitoring in an effort to detect beefs among young people before they turn violent. About $400,000 goes to neighborhood surveillance measures, including grants for cameras and programs encouraging people to report crimes.
While the $90 million will be spent countywide, the Levine Cava plan is unusual in how it distributes the bulk of the arena dollars. Each of the 13 commissioners have spending authority over 30% of the money for anti-poverty and anti-violence programs in their districts. The remaining 70% is reserved for proposals from the mayor, with the dollars assigned to commission districts based on the number of shootings and gun deaths.
Commissioner Keon Hardemon sponsored the legislation enacting the Peace and Prosperity plan, and negotiated the spending formula with Levine Cava ahead of the March FTX vote. On Tuesday, Hardemon emphasized the difference an extra income can make in a household with children where a parent holds a low-wage job. Miami-Dade’s living-wage rules set a minimum pay of $13.88 an hour.
“There are many households where a parent is making $9 or $10 an hour, at the most,” he said. “You could now have a household with three or four or five kids making a living wage. … That can make a big difference in their outlook.”
Levine Cava and Hardemon faced resistance from commissioners in past meetings for the focus on funding youth programs instead of police expenses.
Following a Memorial Day weekend that left at least six dead by gunfire, Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz directed the mayor’s plan to a Tuesday committee hearing and then the special meeting — denying Levine Cava the vote she wanted last week. He assigned Hardemon’s legislation to a committee led by Commissioner Kionne McGhee, who last week told Levine Cava she presented an “anti-poverty” plan instead of a “crime-fighting” plan.
After voting for Levine Cava’s original plan Tuesday, McGhee pointed to the extra police measures and spending announced by the mayor in recent days. “I wasn’t against it,” McGhee said. “It was more so I wanted to see a stronger protection element in her plan. She delivered that today.”