Turmoil in Miami Beach Crime Group Threatens Police Partnership

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Turmoil in Miami Beach Crime Group Threatens Police Partnership:

Influential citizens group credited with helping to reduce crime kicks out police chief and commanders

Conflicts between the leaders of the Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness Group and the City’s police chief have resulted in Chief Dan Oates and other police leadership being kicked out of the group. As a result, Oates has notified City Manager Jimmy Morales that he could no longer “vouch for the accuracy of the material posted" on the group's popular Facebook page.
 
The group operates on the social media network with a “secret” status meaning its page is not visible to the general public and requires an invitation by another member and approval of the administrators to join. For nearly 20 months, the group has shared content on specific incidents of crime and concerns about public safety, often resulting in action by the Police Department, City Administration and Commission. It initially started when co-founder John Deutzman and a friend were harassed while walking on the boardwalk in MidBeach. Deutzman became curious about what he calls the “lurkers” who often hang out in the area, later expanding his focus to include a group that loitered in Lummus Park across from the popular Ocean Drive restaurants. He learned many of them are repeat offenders, some of them with serious crimes on their records. 

As the popularity and influence of the group grew – it now has over 1,700 members – it was embraced by City officials, including Oates, who gave its leaders and members credit for helping reduce the City’s crime rate.

City Manager Jimmy Morales wrote in a letter to Commissioners in February last year, “The Police Chief and I also believe that the vigilance and advocacy of the Facebook group known as ‘Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness,’ newly established in 2017, made a significant contribution to our overall crime reduction in 2017. This group has been particularly successful in alerting the Police Department to suspicious activity and to the location of wanted suspects. The group has also engaged in very effective courtroom advocacy that has resulted in the setting of higher bonds, more jail time and stay-away orders for chronic offenders."
 
In his 2018 State of the City address in December, Mayor Dan Gelber said, “…resident groups especially Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness have been incredibly vigilant and effective.” 
 
But last week Oates sent an email to Morales saying there appears to be a “shakeup” within the leadership of the group and, since then, many members of the Police Department “have suddenly been denied access and can no longer view the page or participate.”
 
“For the past two years, the Police Department has worked constructively with the Facebook Group… Through this partnership, we have collectively achieved significant successes in reducing crime, particularly in the Entertainment District, and ensuring an enhanced advocacy for Miami Beach in the criminal justice process. This has led to stay-away orders, higher bonds and greater sentences for our most chronic offenders. It’s been a great partnership, which I have touted at any number of Commission and committee meetings,” Oates wrote.
 
“We are trying to sort out why we are being deliberately distanced and hoping to correct this,” Oates wrote. “I am told that one of the original four administrators, Michael Defilippi, is no longer participating, and that John Deutzman now has a reduced role.”
 
In the meantime, knowing many City Commissioners are members of the group and read the content, he asked Morales to pass this message along to them. “It is important that they know that at least for now, no one in Police Department leadership can vouch for the accuracy of the material posted on the page. We cannot correct any errors or misperceptions that arise from what is posted, something we were able to do with great cooperation and ease prior to today. We regret this turn of events and we will continue to work to correct this.”
 
Deutzman acknowledged issues amongst the group’s leadership and the Police Department in his response today to Morales, Mayor Dan Gelber, and City Commissioners.
 
“The Police Chief has decided to terminate the unofficial partnership between his department and the Facebook group known as 'Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness Group'. As an administrator of the group and one of the founding fathers I am shocked and puzzled by his decision. At the heart of it, is a dispute between the Chief and our other administrator Jeff Pose. The Chief was understandably furious about an incident that occurred on Thursday, January 31st. However, his anger arose from horribly wrong facts.” Pose is a bail bondsman and former New York City police officer who posts of crimes as they are happening or immediately after along with arrest information.
 
Deutzman outlined a chain of events in which he said the group was falsely accused of taking a picture of an undercover officer and publishing the photo, and “of monitoring, recording and publishing a sensitive police radio transmission.”
 
“Had any of the above been true, the Chief would have been totally justified in his anger and dissolving our relationship,” Deutzman wrote. “But none of it turned out to be true.”
 
Excerpts from Deutzman’s email: 
“In reality this is what happened on that night .... An Ocean Drive business owner (not a member of the group) who has been complaining about drug dealers and police incompetence, inadvertently took a picture of an undercover cop who he apparently thought was a drug dealer. That picture was sent to a police officer who was apparently not aware of the undercover operation or that it was actually a picture of an undercover cop. That officer apparently forwarded the picture to on duty patrol. At some point, it was determined that it was indeed an undercover cop and then a false narrative started that the Facebook group was responsible.”

“On the night of the above incident our group monitor, Jeff Pose, alerted the two administrators, Michael Defilippi and myself, of word on the street that we blew an undercover operation. My immediate reaction was one of horror and disbelief. It’s gut wrenching to be accused of something we didn’t do.”

“Jeff was not sure exactly why we were being accused but he wanted to make sure we weren’t interfering with an undercover operation. Additionally, to prove the cops were indeed accusing our group, he sent a short audio file of a radio transmission, proving that the undercover cop's identity was jeopardized and that the ‘Facebook Creepers’ were the culprits.”

“[Group administrator] Michael Defilippi apparently shared that audio file with the Police Department and it made its way to the Chief. It should be noted that the sharing of the file, intended to be confidential among the people running the group, represented an egregious breach of trust among us and Jeff’s position is that the trust was irreparably damaged by Michael's actions.”

“Upon receiving the audio file, the Chief was furious. At the time, he was under the false belief that the Facebook group published the picture of an undercover cop. He also was angry that supposedly our group was listening in on radio transmissions which could place his officers in jeopardy. In reality, Jeff received this audio file from a second party. The goal was ultimately to stop the Facebook group from possibly interfering in a sensitive operation. I need to point out, there is nothing illegal or improper about listening to or recording police transmissions.”

Deutzman wrote that a phone conversation between Oates and Pose resulted in Pose feeling the need to “lawyer up” over concerns he could be arrested when Oates asked for an in-person meeting. Despite his pleas for calm, Deutzman said there was nothing he could do to alleviate Pose’s concerns.

“It’s important for all of you to know that in addition to Jeff Pose providing essential content to our group, he was the first to testify in bond court on behalf of the community. He has been a Miami Beach resident for decades. Most importantly, without the content Jeff provides our group would not last long. We have Facebook analytics to prove that,” Deutzman wrote.

“Given all of the above, I had to make a tough decision. It’s the equivalent of a doctor cutting off two legs to save a patient’s life. The group cannot survive without Jeff. In order to keep him, Jeff needed the ability to work within the group without being ‘burned’ again.” As a result, Defilippi stepped down as a group administrator “on his own (for the survival of the group) and Jeff removed the Chief and members that he felt put him in jeopardy given the bad blood and potential litigious situation between him and the Chief,” according to Deutzman’s email.
 
While the group is secret, Deutzman said, “The Chief chose to make our internal drama public record when I was still attempting to resolve all issues. As the Chief mentioned, the unofficial partnership, which arose organically, has been extremely successful in making Miami Beach a safer place. In addition to the many accomplishments the Chief pointed out, we have been responsible for helping police identify and capture of [sic] many criminals. It’s in the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors and ‘teamwork’ that we have been successful.”
 
Deutzman wrote he was “puzzled” by the Chief’s statement that he could not vouch for the accuracy of the Facebook page’s content saying on the date Oates sent his email, “Captain Ian Robinson, a person on the Command Staff, was still a member as were several other supervisors and officers… Captain Robinson, or anyone else from the Department, including the Chief himself, could contact me 24-7 with any concerns” about published content.
 
“I’m asking all of you what would you do if you were me? I have three people who I respect tremendously and consider friends involved in a firestorm over a set of bad facts. I was left no choice but to make a very tough decision. Ultimately the survival of the group is most important for the community,” he wrote of the changes in the group’s administration.
 
Oates today provided this response to Morales, Gelber, and Commissioners:
 
Jimmy,
This is a difficult situation that I still hope to resolve. Who knew that social media could have such an impact on policing?
 
I will just make a few points here and then offer to follow up in person with each Commissioner who is interested in hearing more:
 
  • John Deutzman has done wonderful things through this group and truly contributed to making our city safer. I hope he will continue to do so and that he will work with our MBPD team, either through or outside of the Facebook group.
  • I don’t want to be publicly contesting facts with John. That wouldn’t be a productive way to resolve this dispute. 
  • It is obvious that there has been a breakup of the Facebook group leadership. Mr. Pose is now in charge of the page.
  • Mr. Pose has, on more than one occasion, engaged in conduct that has endangered our officers.
  • I offered to meet with Mr. Pose to discuss how we might work productively together without him further endangering our cops. He refused to meet.
  • Mr. Pose then removed nearly all the members of the MBPD from the Facebook page, including our command staff and our Public Information Officer.
  • John and the other administrator of the page said they could not correct this.
 
In short, I’ve asked for two things of John and Mr. Pose: 1) that we meet with Mr. Pose to try to resolve this; and 2) that our MBPD personnel be restored to the Facebook page. 
 
I am hoping that common sense will prevail. We will continue to try to work this out.
 
Dan
 

Deutzman thinks he’s between a rock and a hard place. He told RE:MiamiBeach, “I can’t control who hates who. And that’s definitely part of this equation and I can’t control how people feel about eachother which is part of this equation. I can honestly say there’s no one in the Police Department that I hate despite having enemies… I consider all of these people really close friends and partners and it’s horrible to be in this situation but it is what it is.”
 
“I think the Chief jumped the gun thinking that we were going to alter our content to be very anti-chief and anti-police” after being ejected from the group, Deutzmn said. “That’s something that’s certainly not going to happen… We’re going to continue providing exactly what we provided in terms of content and information. We’re continuing with our roles. We’re not going in any different editorial direction.”
 
He said he’s not happy the Chief was removed or that Defilippi resigned but he said “I had to do this to preserve the content of the site. Breaking news is what drives the site and Jeff is the source of all of that.” 
 
“I think that there’s always a mistrust by cops of non-cops to some degree,” Deutzman said. “There’s a blue wall of protection or silence whatever you want to call it” but he said the group makes clear it is “pro-police.”
 
“I don’t know of any other site in the world that has kicked off 84 people because of anti-cop comments,” he said noting the group’s rules are clear that there is to be “no police bashing” which applies to the rank and file on up to the Chief. 

One of the group’s hallmarks, its advocacy in court for strict sentencing of habitual criminals, was noted by Morales in his February 2018 report to Commissioners:
 
“Among the persons this group has focused on, as of today’s writing approximately 30 persons who were chronic offenders in the Entertainment District, particularly along Ocean Drive and Lummus Park, are either convicted and sentenced to jail, in jail awaiting trial, in some form of institutionalized treatment, or subject to court-imposed stay-away orders from all or a portion of the city. Because many of these individuals were frequent, even prolific in committing crimes, their absence from Miami Beach is almost certainly a factor in the City’s overall crime decline. There is evidence that some of these chronic offenders have even left the City for good.”

Oates told RE:MiamiBeach today, “I don’t see any suggestion that that’s going to end. I hope it doesn’t end. This is about access to the Facebook group. They banned nearly every member of the Police Department. I don’t know how that’s productive for a partnership so I hope we can work this out.”
 
Deutzman, however, said, a police sergeant has begun taking on much of the tracking of chronic offenders that he has previously done and Deutzman said after being in court with the sergeant today, “I’m going to let the people in charge of safety take charge and see how that goes. If somebody really needs my help they’ll let me know, hopefully.”
 
Asked about the group’s accomplishments, he said, “The most important thing is that our accomplishments are anecdotal accomplishments that are visible. Take a walk on Ocean Drive or through Lummus Park and try to compare it to the way it was two years ago. We have chronic offenders who by law are supposed to suffer higher consequences, higher sanctions, actually getting those higher sanctions because life’s tougher for criminals on the Beach. Some people have not returned to the Beach and I think we’ve made everybody aware in this city that we have a very large portion of people lurking around who are predatory people who just prey upon our tourists and residents constantly over and over and over again.”
 
Oates, meanwhile, emphasized, “I hope this is a temporary dispute or misunderstanding that can be resolved."
 

 

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