MIAMI GARDENS (CBS4) – In the wake of recent crimes in Miami Gardens, the police department has increased its presence in the 22-square-mile city.
Sgt. Martin Santiago is one of the more than 200 officers tasked with keeping streets safe.
On Friday night, he drove around looking for signs of trouble. He said it’s rarely in short supply.
“Last night they jumped out on some guys that were smoking marijuana on the stairway one of them was in possession of a firearm and he was a convicted felon,” Sgt. Santiago said.
Sgt. Santiago is the head of the Miami Gardens Rapid Action Deployment Unit, or Rad, known to some on the street as “The Guys in Black”.
“We usually ride 2 men to a car and we usually are looking for suspicious activity,” Santiago said.
A CBS4 News crew tagged along for a recent ride.
On that night, Sgt. Santiago and his team of 5 officers set up the command post at the shopping center on 183 Street and 27 Avenue.
He said visibility is key.
“We’ve had a couple shootings here during the day,” Santiago said. “We think it’s gang drug related. Once we started having more of a presence in this area it kind of stopped.”
Santiago and his men made their presence known at this house party, where the music was in violation of the city’s noise ordinance.
Everyone got away with just a warning, but several other officers, including some with the gang unit, also stopped by to make sure no other rules were being broken.
Sgt. Santiago says they see a lot of robberies and drug deals. Just two weeks ago, the owner of a well-known car wash was shot to death in front of customers.
While crime is still rampant, Sgt. Santiago said it’s not as bad as it was 5 years ago when the police department was first created. The city used to fall under the jurisdiction of the Miami-Dade Police Dept.
“We went from the 6th worst city according to FBI stats for 2006 to the 35th last year,” Santiago explained. “So I think we’ve made a tremendous impact, but I think there’s a lot more that we can do.”
Miami Gardens police will soon have another weapon in their crime fighting arsenal.
They hope to launch the “Shot Spotter” system next week.
It’s basically a network of censors throughout the city that will activate when shots are fired nearby.
Santiago said cops will be notified within 30 seconds of the danger, and hopefully be able to set up a perimeter and catch the bad guys within minutes.
The 5-year-old department will be moving a new state-of-art facility in 2014. The new digs are on 27th Avenue, where Santiago said they’ll be much more visible.