Breakfast with the cops

Yesterday Miami and Miami Beach police officers fanned out across their local McDonald’s restaurants to chat up nearby residents and hopefully rework their public image, which has taken a hit amid incidents of police violence across the US. The goal: to be seen as engaged community members, not macho enforcers.

Curious how it would go, we joined in at our local McDonald’s on NW 62nd Street and NW 6th Ave.

The neighborhood has been struggling with mounting gun violence lately, which has claimed the lives of scores of bystanders, several of them children. Just this week, five people were shot in a drive-by shooting during rush hour on a busy street in the neighborhood. This incident and others like it popped up in their chats today. Here’s what people were saying:

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Debbie Mills, Commander, City of Miami Police Department

On building relationships:

We’re here so that the community can get together with the police officers, no questions asked. It builds trust and opens up dialogue. We think it’s very important to build a better relationship with the community. We’re not trying to solicit information from the public. We’re just here to show you that we’re human beings and you can ask us anything that you want to ask. If there’s something you might need clarification on, a concern you might have had — just anything from traffic to how the police do an emergency run and who authorizes that.

On reducing youth violence:

Some concerns we have here is mostly the youth violence. It would make an impact if we could really get the youth involved — of course right now they’re in school so that would be a different kind of interaction. That is one of my greatest concerns. And in general building a stronger relationship with the community. Here they see us here in a different light. We’re not enforcing the law, just sharing coffee, so they tend to see us in a different light. It’s in more of a human light, not just handing out the ticket and taking somebody to jail.

On whether Mickey D’s coffee is any good:

I’m more of a tea drinker myself.

Abdul Khaled, lifelong Liberty City resident

On police distrust:

We’ve lost public trust in our officials and law enforcement. And it’s not that I distrust the police as an institution, but there are individuals that I know that need to be weeded out. There are individuals among and in government that have caused this type of ordeal and this disrespect.

On their presence in the neighborhood:

I think the police should be more like they were in the days when they were on foot in the neighborhood, walking in the neighborhoods, like for example how they do in London. Standing in the neighborhood, on foot, not riding through the neighborhood only when there’s crime but in the neighborhood 24 hours a day. On foot communicating with people and the people know them.

On no longer knowing his police officers:

I’ve lived here all my life. I was born here. There was a time when I knew a police officer and I could go to him and find him because I knew where he would be. I knew what his beat was and I knew what time to find him. But now we don’t have that. We have cops who weren’t even born in this neighborhood. They don’t even know us and they were just hired. We just need to have officers that we know that we grow up with they know us, we know them, and there’s a bond. That trust can be healed.

Jacqueline Mesidor, City of Miami Police Department Sergeant

On why she became a police officer:

I followed the footsteps of my father, who is a retired police officer from the North Miami police, Andre Mesidor. I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps and that paved my way to go into this line of work.

On challenges in the community:

I’m the patrol sergeant in this area. There are growing concerns of the recent gun activity that’s been going on. We wanted to show our community that we do care and this is one of the ways. We wanted to present ourselves and let them know that we’re here to address any issues or concerns they may have. Most of the conversations have been more or less regarding the current and continuous gun activity and gang activity in the community. Everyone is concerned regarding that, rightfully so.

On difficult interactions:

You have your sidewalk attorneys that more or less think they’re always right about everything. Sometimes we have to combat that and deal with it, but we get our point across.

On what locals need to know about them:

We have children, we’re mothers and fathers, and we can relate to what they’re saying how they’re feeling and what their concerns are. They’re not just standing here all alone. We do care and want to show our concern and if there’s any questions or concerns we’re always here.

On officers feeling safe while patrolling:

What’s happening lately is that a lot of gangs out here are armed with AK-47s, these are heavy machine guns, and sometimes we’re even outgunned. One of our main concerns is regarding gun laws. I’d like these guns to be more restricted from these youngsters, because that’s a problem we’ve been having. We need stricter gun laws and detailed checks on people with weapons. Officers are risking their lives on a daily basis and at the end of the day they want to go home to their families as well.

On police brutality:

Our department does not condone police brutality. Anytime around the country where police brutality has occurred and whoever that law enforcement officer is, who has tarnished the badge should be accountable for his or her actions. I one hundred and ten percent agree with that. I know our department has transitioned to body cameras and that’s a step implemented with the City of Miami Police Department. Our internal affairs department is active and if there’s anything that needs to be addressed, it’s dealt with quickly, and correctly and treated fairly.

Ernest Kemt, Liberty City resident

On crime in Liberty City:

I come here typically every morning. I live here, not too far away. I heard that they, the police, were going to be here today and I asked them a couple of questions already. I asked them about the crime going on on NW 15th Ave. It’s a hotspot for crime, drug violence, teenagers getting shot and killed. I was asking them what they are doing to combat the crime in that area. They said it’s being addressed and they’re looking at all the options as we speak. I believe they’re talking about it. Do I believe it’s going to happen? Probably not. This has been going on for decades in this city. Liberty City has been a hotspot for crime as far back as I can remember. There’s not enough money, time, and attention in the Liberty City/Little Haiti area.

On increasing impact:

These police officers seem to be full of integrity. But if they’re having the type of impact on this community to prevent crime from happening … I don’t know. That’s debatable. I think they need to have permanent patrol in high impact areas 24/7. I think they’re trying to build connections and network so that if there’s anything in the future that happens they can have people in place where they know how to contact and they can get the information they need to solve crimes. That’s a positive step, but I really don’t think in this community it’s going to have a very profound effect on preventing crime.

This community is deprived of a lot of economic parity and they can do a whole lot more than coming here once in a blue moon talking about congregating with the community. There are a lot of drugs running rampant and a lot of crime in general. Any given day, you turn on the news someone’s getting shot right in this area. These are issues due to poverty and the lack of police presence on the norm police need to police this community 24/7, all the time.

Kia Burrows, Lieutenant, City of Miami Police Department

On the importance of community engagement:

We wanted to open up the doors and say we’re here for you if you need us. Especially here in the Model City area, it allows the community who comes here on a regular basis to get to know the officers who work in the area. When you have that interpersonal relationship, it opens up the opportunities for trust. We just want to build good relationships with the community and the police officers together.

I think that once that trust is built between officers and citizens, when crimes occur the citizens will still feel safe enough to be able to give us the information we need so we can put a stop to the the gun violence that’s going on in the neighborhood.

On small talk:

Most of the conversations have been a brief greeting, not talking about police work. We’re just opening the door for interpersonal connections.