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Village officials working on plan to crack down on nuisance offenses that are becoming a growing annoyance

Figuratively speaking, Luis Lauredo says he’s hoping the Key Biscayne Village Police Department will begin cracking down on its enforcement of local laws by using what he fondly calls “hitting them with a 2-by-4 approach.”

“I’ve asked for no more warnings -- it’s just not working,” said the 40-year resident of the island whose platform in 2018, when he decided to run for a council seat, was geared toward strict rules enforcement. “It’s not a crisis, but we’re seeing the same pattern on the same issues. Now, it’s give them a ticket and ‘We’ll see you in court’ if it comes to that.”

Whether veteran Police Chief Charles R. Press takes matters to that level -- short of the “Walking Tall” analogy, of course -- remains to be seen when he is expected to list his recommendations on the subject at the next Key Biscayne Village Council meeting, set for Jan. 26.

Press, 66, a lifelong resident of South Florida, who is in his 16th year as the island’s police chief (he’s also the interim village manager), has led the way in perennially keeping Key Biscayne surfacing among a Top 5 “Safest Cities in Florida” list, depending on how analyses are used from FBI crime statistics.

“They’ve done a tremendous job and I’m grateful for what they do,” said Press, regarding his 36-officer staff for the 13,299 residents on the slice of paradise.

State statistics from the FBI’s 2019 reports, released last September, show Key Biscayne’s crime rate being 45 percent lower than the national average and 46.17 percent lower than the Florida average. Violent crime here is 90 percent lower than the national average. In fact, one report listed Key Biscayne as safer than 74 percent of the cities across the U.S.

“Some days the phone doesn’t ring (in the police station), but we like it that way,” said Press, laughing.

But, lately, the trend has leaned toward an assortment of rule-breakers, stemming from declining attitudes toward the law and the police.

“It’s what I refer to as a slippery slope,” said Lauredo, one of the charter members who, in 1991, helped Key Biscayne become the first incorporated city to break away from Miami-Dade County. “If people can get away with something, then there’s a tendency for all of us to do it. If it says 30 mph, then maybe I can go 40 ... there’s only one way to stop it and that is strict enforcement. Now it’s time for no more excuses, whether who you are or who you know.”

At the Jan. 12 council meeting, Lauredo approached the subject of stricter enforcement and it drew a unanimous response.

“The message last week was clear,” he said.

“One thing I try to tell the chief, subconsciously we’ve put a lot of the burden on them (officers) and we can’t expect them to be social workers. That’s not their job. Right now, it’s gone too far and he understands that. I look forward to hearing what plan he has.”

Press said his force already has zero tolerance on areas that are “extremely dangerous,” such as traffic violations in school zones.

But he’s also heard of growing concerns from residents and business owners, such as:

- Juveniles driving golf carts haphazardly on city streets.

- Crimes of dare -- “Like, ‘I dare you to run into CVS or Winn-Dixie and steal a bag of candy.’ And the more atypical congregating in shopping centers.”

- Dogs running unleashed on beaches or pooping on private property. “Dogs are certainly becoming an issue,” Press said. “We have one of the prettiest dog parks around and they (residents) paid for it with their tax money, but you’d think it would get more use ... Now the dogs have become more of a nuisance issue than anything.”

Fines in Florida range from $35 in Cape Canaveral to a $500 maximum on Madeira Beach in Pinellas County. Key Biscayne’s fines likely would revert to Dade County’s code enforcement fines of $50 and $100, depending on the violation.

Speeding on area streets and on what Lauredo calls the “Rickenbacker Racetrack,” although enforcement there is split between county, city and state jurisdictions.

Curfew violations. “If we have one officer who spots kids on the beach at 1 a.m. and 25 or 30 kids start running in all different directions, it’s going to be impossible to handle,” Press said. “We don’t have the manpower to hold those kids until their parents come get them. We’ll have four to five patrols (on a given shift). It’s a challenge but it’s not overwhelming. With different funding, maybe we can add an extra officer just to deal with juveniles.”

Excessive noise from boats mooring with partiers along the bayside of the island was one of the items brought up as a concern at the Jan. 12 council meeting.

Press admits there also are problems with alcohol abuse and drug use among young people, “like in most other communities.”

“All these things encourage different behavior, and as they grow older it becomes more dangerous,” he said. “... I believe these new efforts (which he will disclose Jan. 26) to take hold will be effective and create better opportunities.”

Lauredo is optimistic, hoping to see the community quickly revert to its ways as a safe, peaceful haven for families, respectful of the laws in place.

“All this is not a reflection of culpability of the police force,” Lauredo said. “It’s a culture that creeps up ... we need to correct it ourselves before it becomes an epidemic. This is the only way to retain the spirit of the city when we founded it.”

Press appears to be In total agreement.

“It’s going to take a stronger effort,” he said. “Like they say, it takes a village - parents, teachers, law enforcement - to make some kids understand. There has to be that accountability.”