8,489 KIDS, AND 1,775 SENIOR CITIZENS CAUGHT UP IN CITY’S VERSION OF “STOP & FRISK”
In the summer of 2010, a young black man was stopped and questioned by police on the streets of Miami Gardens, Florida. According to the report filled out by the officer, he was “wearing gray sweatpants, a red hoodie and black gloves” giving the police “just cause” to question him. In the report, he was labeled a “suspicious person.”
He was an 11-year-old boy on his way to football practice.
A Fusion investigation has found that he was just one of 56,922 people who were stopped and questioned by Miami Gardens Police Department (MGPD) between 2008 and 2013. That’s the equivalent of more than half of the city’s population.
Not one of them was arrested.
It was all part of the city’s sweeping “stop and frisk” style policy that may be unparalleled in the nation.
According to a review of 99,980 “field contact” reports, they were stopped, written up and often identified as “suspicious” — but just like the 11-year-old boy — the encounter was recorded in a public database, and they were let go.
Thousands more were arrested after being stopped by the police, raising the total number of people ensnared by the policy to 65,328 during the five-year period.
“I have never seen a police department that has taken the approach that every citizen in that city is a suspect. I’ve described it as New York City stop-and-frisk on steroids.” said Miami-Dade County Public Defender Carlos Martinez.
Last year, a Miami Herald report exposed how the MGPD repeatedly stopped and arrested employees and customers of a local convenience store including, Earl Sampson, who was stopped more than 200 times.
Fusion’s analysis of more than 30,000 pages of field contact reports, shows how aggressive and far-reaching the police actions were. Some residents were stopped, questioned and written up multiple times within minutes of each other, by different officers. Children were stopped by police in playgrounds. Senior citizens were stopped and questioned near their retirement home, including a 99-year-old man deemed to be “suspicious.” Officers even wrote a report identifying a five-year-old child as a “suspicious person.”
Fusion’s Investigation also found evidence that some field contact reports may have been falsified. There were many instances were multiple reports were filed just minutes apart – all claiming to stop the same person. Other reports claimed a person was stopped on the streets by police, when in fact, they were actually in jail at the time.
Two officers from the MGPD told Fusion that high-ranking department officials gave them orders to “bring in the numbers” by conducting stops and arrests. One officer said he was ordered to stop all black males between 15 and 30 years of age.
According to the current police chief, simply being in a “high crime area” may be enough reason to stop and question people. Because of the city’s high crime rate, this means virtually any person can be stopped.
“You’re essentially saying you have reasonable suspicion to stop everybody in your community. That’s crazy, because that means they’re exercising no discretion,” says Martinez, the Miami-Dade public defender.
Denzel Flowers remembers the first time he was stopped by the Miami Gardens Police Department. He said he was hanging out in a neighborhood park in the middle of the day when police approached him. Denzel said he was just 15 years old.
“We were all chillin’ in the park,” says Denzel, now 20. “The police stopped everybody. Told us don’t move and ran everybody’s names.”
That was the first of a string of 27 police stops, according to field contact records examined by Fusion. Denzel was also arrested four times before he was 18 years old, but he has never been convicted of any crime.
“I couldn’t leave my house without being in fear,” he says.
Thousands of others ages 18 and under also had encounters with Miami Gardens police as recorded in field contact reports like this one.
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