Miami Gardens’ residents began receiving a special notice in the mail last week urging them to vote “yes’’ in an upcoming special election.

The special mail ballot referendum will determine whether the five-year-old city is required to continue using and paying for police services provided by the Miami-Dade County Police Department.
In order to be counted, the ballots must be returned via mail by June 25, and voters must sign the outside of the envelope.

When Miami Gardens was incorporated in 2003, the city charter required that all specialized police services be provided by the county. These services included crime-scene investigation, K-9 services, homicide, sexual battery, arson, economic crime and domestic violence investigations.

In December 2007, the City began providing its own localized police services when it created the Miami Gardens Police Department (MGPD). The county continued the provision of specialized services, for which the city paid more than $5 million annually. Localized services include street patrol, traffic detail and other community services.

City Manager Danny Crew told the South Florida Times that after complaining to County Manager George Burgess about the city’s financial obligation to the county, the two entities reached an agreement that reduced the amount by one third each year until October 2008, when the city began performing all police services. The city currently pays nothing to the county.

“[The election] formalizes that agreement by taking it out of the charter that we have to use them,” Crew explained.

The city manager cautions Miami Gardens residents to sign the outside of the envelope in order to make their votes official.

“A lot of people had already sent theirs back in but they forgot to sign the outside of the envelope. That means their vote is void,” Crew explained.

He said ensuring the proper amount of postage is also critical.

“The other thing that people don’t realize is that it takes two stamps, because it’s an odd- sized envelope that the county has gone to,” he said.

He also explained the term “favored nation,” which appears in the ballot.

“In our charter, it said for example, when it comes to these services, we had a favored nation status. If a new city came along afterwards and the county decided not to charge that new city for these services, we wouldn’t have to pay either.”

Removing the contractual requirement from the charter makes the favored nation status regarding specialized police services moot.

The city continues to have favored nation status for fire and solid waste services, however.

“We can never have fire and solid waste according to our charter. If the county decides to give the next city the ability to do their own fire department, then that would free us and allow us to do our own fire department,” Crew explained.

When asked why the city did not assume the cost of postage for such an important election, Crew said that it is because the authority to do so does not rest with Miami Gardens.

“If [the County] would have asked us, we would have done that,” Crew said, “Because it really is important that we cut the rest of our involuntary ties to the County.”

In this election process, the majority rules, so the number of ballots returned will not affect the outcome of the vote.

According to a Miami Gardens news release, the crime rate in the city has been reduced by 19 percent since the city assumed its own policing duties.

Annual statistics provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement indicate that the city’s murder rate went from 24 in 2007 to 21 in 2008; rapes dropped from 61 in 2007 to 42 in 2008, and the number of robberies went from 686 in 2007 to 551 in 2008.

Miami Gardens Police Chief Mathew Boyd has seen the number of sworn officers employed by the department increase from 145 to 192.

The city’s creation of its own police force was one of the factors cited by American City and County magazine in its 2008 recognition of Miami Gardens as one of ten cities in the nation to utilize best practice measures in local governments across the country.