In its short history, the city of Miami Gardens has racked up several honors.
Recognized by a national magazine as one of the top 10 cities in the country and featured on a national prime time news program because of its rapid progress, the predominantly black city that broke away from Miami-Dade County in 2003 to form its own governing body continues to astound critics and give supporters yet another reason to celebrate.
Of all its accolades, none is perhaps as significant as where it stands in the City Crime Rankings 2009-2010: Crime in Metropolitan America. In the 2009 ranking, the city dropped an astounding 22 places from 13th to 35th, based on a statistical comparison of 2008 information taken from the FBI.
City leaders credit the crime drop to the creation of the city’s police force two years ago.
In the CQ Press annual publication that includes 393 U.S. cities, Camden, New Jersey has the distinction of being the most crime-ridden city in the country, while Colonie, New York sits pretty as the city with the least amount of reported crime.
The crime-rate rankings are calculated using six crime categories: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft, and include all cities of at least 75,000 residents that reported crime data to the FBI.
According to Ben Krasney, CQ Press spokesman, the city of Miami Gardens’ statistics are impressive.
"Looking across just a couple of numbers I see that [the city's] rates for several of the major crimes, especially aggravated assault, dropped significantly from year to year," Krasney said of the category in which the city went from being ranked as the fifth-highest in the nation to 107th.
"For the reported rapes, the rank went from 61st to 146, and robbery went from 12th to 34th," Krasney said.
While being ranked lower came as no surprise to Miami Gardens officials, the size of the drop astounded the administration.
"We've obviously been seeing the numbers, so we had a pretty good idea that we were going to fall in the rankings, but to fall in the rankings 22 spots, that's pretty incredible," said Oliver Gilbert, the city's vice mayor.
After voters decided to increase property taxes, the city's police department opened its doors in December 2007, luring seasoned veterans by offering some of the highest salaries in the country, along with lucrative signing bonuses.
The city continued to contract with the Miami-Dade Police Department for investigations of serious crimes until 2008, when Miami Gardens’ police department began investigating murders, rapes, robberies and other serious offenses within the city limits.
"It's always good to know that that which we've actually worked for, with the police department and with the community, that we're actually being successful," Gilbert said.
The city and the police department's roles in crime reduction are certainly major factors in the reduction, Gilbert said, but the community's participation has been pivotal.
"One of the things we said was, in addition to getting our own police department, in order to have the safest community possible, we have to actually not just use the police, but the residents who live here and the business owners who have an interest in seeing safety as a premium in Miami Gardens," Gilbert explained. "If you have all these eyes, 110,000 residents watching and reporting and calling when they see something suspicious, it's a lot easier to police a neighborhood."
The city currently has more than 30 Crime Watch groups. Gilbert said the number is growing and will have an impact on future crime rankings.
"We believe that the crime statistics will actually be better next year because we're steadily seeing more people get involved with crime watches," he said.