MIAMI (CBSMiami) – As coronavirus cases rise, Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina tells CBS4 that his officers are compelled to take more aggressive steps to curb violations.
In an exclusive interview with CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, Colina said, “Basically our concern as you know is everyone’s safety. That’s first and foremost. We’re trying to find that balance between people running businesses and being able to make a living and hire people and be mindful of that, coupled with the fact that we have to do enforcement. And if we need to take action we obviously will.”
Colina’s comments come one day after Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said more aggressive steps were necessary.
Colina said in the past several weeks, 27 businesses have been shut down for violations, most for up to a day.
“It’s not what we prefer,” he said. “We have an educational component here. We have a task force we sent out giving warnings and saying we are going to come back and more sure you follow these guidelines.”
Guidelines include requirements that customers and patrons wear masks and practice social distancing.
“We want to bring them in to compliance and say make sure everyone wears a mask,” he said.
Late night images from clubs around Miami show a problem with a lack of social distancing and young people not wearing masks in close settings such as clubs.
One big challenge has been dealing with complaints about underground parties in areas such as Wynwood and Little Havana.
“If we go somewhere and nobody’s wearing a mask and it is shoulder to shoulder and hot and loud and people are speaking loud like they would at a bar, then we will speak to management and shut them down because of the dangers they pose,” said Colina.
He added, “It’s a big concern with these underground parties. It’s almost like a speakeasy. Sometimes they will try and hire an officer to work there while they have a party because they think if they have an officer working there they think that somehow sends a message they are in compliance.”
But that is not necessarily the case.
“You are responsible for your business,” said Colina. “You need to know what’s acceptable and what isn’t.”
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“It hurts our officers to see these businesses shut down because they know people need to make a living,” he said.
There can be fines of up to $500.
“Our intent here is to try to give everyone the opportunity to come into compliance. And if they show us they have the ability to do that, we would allow them to have the ability to open back up,” said Colina.
“What’s most important for us is that it would be catastrophic in South Florida if we had to have one of these mass shutdowns again because everyone here is dependent on travel and if there aren’t restaurants open and businesses open people won’t come here because that drives our economy.
“Takes a look at our department. Several months ago we had five coronavirus cases from our staff of nearly 1,800 civilian employees and police officers. Now we are back up to 40. I have 30 officers who are COVID-positive and 10 civilians who are COVID-positive.
“We cannot let our guard down. There is COVID fatigue. People are relying on the vaccine. Even when that comes we still have to be careful and stay safe and not lose anybody else from this terrible disease.”