As Miami Beach considers funding to put more police officers on the street, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine released portions of a poll he conducted last month among City voters that shows “a high level of concern” over crime and public safety and a willingness to fund additional officers through higher taxes or a slight reduction in other City services.
At their meeting on Wednesday, Miami Beach Commissioners will discuss a proposal for a one-time enhancement to MBPD for an additional 15 police officers and two sergeants over a three-year period to augment coverage in the South Beach Entertainment District (which is in process of being rebranded the Art Deco Cultural District or ADCD).
“The additional officers would be dedicated to the ADCD to provide a higher level of service while ensuring that resources are not redirected from other parts of the City and would reduce the need for overtime with staffing returning to current levels as officers retire or attrit over the 3-year timeframe,” Interim City Manager Raul Aguila wrote in a memo to Commissioners. “At that time, the effectiveness of the additional staffing can be evaluated for potential permanent staffing decisions.” The cost of the proposal is estimated at $5.5 million over the three-year period, including personnel, vehicles, and equipment.
Commissioners will also consider a recommendation to accelerate the installation of security cameras, a one-time $500,000 cost, and creating a Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) at MBPD headquarters to display security camera and license plate reader (LPRs) feeds. Proposed funding of $1.6 million would include two Crime Analysis Specialist positions to support the additional cameras and LPRs being installed citywide. Total funding required for the initiatives is $3.9 million which will be presented as a budget amendment. [Update: Commissioners approved the budget amendment.]
Meanwhile, Levine is sharing parts of a poll he commissioned to gather data on perceptions of quality of life issues in the City. Among the “key takeaways” noted in a memo from Rob Schmidt of McLaughlin & Associates, there’s “a high level of concern on the issue of crime and public safety with a large majority believing that violent crime has been increasing of late.” In addition, Schmidt notes voters are “sharply divided on the overall direction of the City and how crime and public safety are being handled.”
Levine served two terms as mayor of Miami Beach from 2013 to 2017. In sharing the data, Levine spokesman Alex Miranda said the motivation behind the poll is because Levine “cares about the future of Miami Beach and the direction that it’s currently headed in.” Asked if the poll was related to a potential return to political office, Miranda said, “As of now, no decision’s been made whether he’s running for mayor or not.” Miranda managed Levine’s 2013 campaign for Mayor and served as his Chief of Staff for 19 months during his first term.
Note: RE:MiamiBeach does not cover political races though we do cover issues when they are on the ballot such as the increase in FAR for the North Beach Town Center and the General Obligation Bonds. As Levine is not a candidate for office, we are sharing this polling data which we believe is of interest to our readers.
“There’s no motivation other than Philip has lived in Miami Beach for 30 plus years. He’s built his business in Miami Beach. He obviously has a vested interest in Miami Beach,” Miranda said. “He understands the need for quick, decisive action,” Miranda added. “Kicking the can down the road is no longer an option.”
Additional takeaways noted in the memo from the polling firm: “Those concerned with the issue of crime are far more likely to hold negative and pessimistic feelings towards the City. Furthermore, there is widespread awareness of recent criminal events and agreement that most of the violent crime is occurring in the South Beach entertainment district. Most voters prefer hiring more police officers for the South Beach entertainment district – even if it means slightly higher taxes or fewer City services. This sentiment suggests voters prefer decisive action to help fix a serious problem.”
Excerpts from the poll:
Among four potential choices, 43% of all those polled said “reducing crime and keeping neighborhoods safe” is the top issue facing Miami Beach besides the coronavirus with no significant differences by party affiliation. Distant second, third, and fourth choices were “addressing flooding due to sea level rise and climate change” (23%), “rebuilding the economy and creating jobs” (17%) and “limiting growth and overdevelopment” (14%).
The gap between men and women is notable with 51% of women ranking the crime issue first versus 36% of men.
When asked if violent crime has increased, decreased, or remained the same “lately,” 61% of respondents said the amount of violent crime has increased with 23% saying it has remained the same and 8% believing it has decreased.
Again, there were no differences along party lines, but the gender gap continued with women more likely than men to say violent crime has increased, 66% to 57% respectively.
Asked if “things in Miami Beach are going in the right direction or the wrong direction,” the responses were almost evenly split with 44% saying things are going in the wrong direction while 41% believe they are going in the right direction.
Here there were some differences by party affiliation. According to McLaughlin & Associations, “Half (50%) of Republicans say 'wrong direction' while 41% say 'right direction.' The plurality of NPAs [No Party Affiliation] say 'wrong direction' 46% to 51% and the plurality of Democrats say 'right direction' 42% to 39%.”
“Nevertheless, the ‘right direction’ number is very similar among all three partisan groups indicating that no political group is decisively optimistic,” the polling firm noted.
The gender gap widened on the question of where the City is going. “Men say the City is headed in the ‘right direction’ by a 51% to 35% margin, while women say ‘wrong direction’ by a near inverse margin, 53% to 31%. Among the 43% of voters who care most about crime, 55% say ‘wrong direction,’ demonstrating how this issue is negatively impacting overall opinions about the City,” according to the polling firm.
Asked if they “approve or disapprove of how Miami Beach is handling crime and public safety,” McLaughlin & Associates found, “Exactly half (50%) of all voters disapprove of how Miami Beach is handling crime and public safety while 47% approve. Intensity is stronger among the disapprovals, as 33% ‘strongly disapprove’ compared to just 12% who ‘strongly approve.’”
There were slight differences by party affiliation, but, again, a marked difference between men and women, with men approving by a 55% to 44% margin and women disapproving by a 57% to 38% margin. “Among the voters who reside in South Beach, disapproval increased to 62% with just 36% approval. Nearly seven in ten (69%) of those who care most about crime also disapprove,” according to the summary memo.
In a question related to where violent crime is occurring in Miami Beach, “By a lopsided margin of 62% to 8%, voters believe most of the violent crime in Miami Beach is occurring in the South Beach entertainment district – which was described in the survey as the area between 5th Street and 16th Street from Ocean Drive to Washington Avenue. One in five (21%) say violent crime is all over Miami Beach and is not occurring in one particular area,” the poll found.
Asked if they were “aware of a recent spike in violent crime in Miami Beach this past month – where a female tourist was held at gunpoint, a man was shot in the leg at a local restaurant, three other people were shot at a restaurant on Washington Avenue and one woman was stabbed by another woman wielding scissors,” 68% of those polled indicated they were aware.
Given four choices, 47% of voters said, “policies that focus too much on tourism ahead of protecting quality of life (47%) and certain local businesses attracting bad actors and behaviors (46%)” were the top two reasons “for the recent increase in violent crime in Miami Beach.”
The final question read, “The City of Miami Beach has limited police resources. Keeping that in mind, what would be the best way to utilize police resources to address the recent increase in violent crime?”
“When informed that the City has limited police resources, voters by a two to one margin of 53% to 25% prefer hiring more police officers for the South Beach entertainment district on the weekends – even if it may result in higher taxes or fewer City services – rather than redirecting police officers from residential neighborhoods. Just 11% said they oppose adding extra police officers to the South Beach entertainment district on the weekends,” the poll found.
“By party, support for hiring additional police officers is highest among Democrats at 57%, while 50% of Republicans also take this position. NPAs also prefer hiring more police officers by a greater than two to one margin of 48% to 21%,” the polling firm indicated. “It is important to note that broad partisan agreement on issues of both law and order and taxation are usually quite rare.”
Asked about the timing of the poll, Miranda said, “I would say the recent string of incidents that occurred in South Beach were definitely a catalyst. It’s obviously something that’s been on people’s minds” though, he noted, what’s happening is “not a one-off situation. This has been escalating for years and years and years. When you look at the numbers, considering the intensity behind people’s opinions, people are cognizantly aware of what is going on and the people who are aware, they are not happy.”
And the goal? “I think it’s pretty clear that one of the goals is to sound the alarm that Miami Beach residents are closely paying attention to the news,” Miranda said. “The Beach electorate is an informed and educated electorate” and it shouldn’t be a surprise that 70% are aware of the recent violent incidents.
Last July, Mayor Dan Gelber proposed overhauling the South Beach Entertainment District to end what he calls the “Bourbon Street feel” of the area. The effort combined “carrots and sticks” with zoning changes to curtail alcohol sales, permanent pedestrianization of Ocean Drive, and greater accountability from business operators and their landlords. City staff proposed additional ideas, some of which gained Commission consensus and others that were dead on arrival. Gelber called a special meeting after a string of incidents in November to push the changes and, in January, some of them were approved.
Levine has not yet discussed the results of his poll with City and other community leaders, but Miranda said he would do that “in the near future.”
The poll included “additional components” which, Miranda said, “will be released at a later date.”
The Poll Methodology: “McLaughlin & Associates conducted a survey of 300 registered voters in Miami Beach, Florida from February 22nd to 24th, 2021. A multi-modal approach was employed via live telephone calls and self-administered text messages in both English and Spanish. The live telephone interviews were conducted by professional bilingual interviewers with respondents contacted by both landline phone and cell phone. The text message respondents were sent a personalized invitation to complete the survey on a secure online platform. Interview selection was random and interviews were stratified by precinct, race/ethnicity, age, gender and political party to correlate with actual voter turnout from previous November elections. In order to qualify for this survey, voters had to have voted in at least one of the last three November municipal elections (2019, 2017 or 2015) or have voted in the November 2018 midterm election if they hadn’t voted in any of the last three municipal elections. This poll of 300 registered voters has an accuracy of +/- 5.7% at a 95% confidence interval. The error margin increases for cross-tabulation. Totals may not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding and refusals.”
Charts from McLaughlin & Associates
Photo: Spring Break 2019 courtesy Logan Fazio