Raquel Regalado, the two-term school board member running for Miami-Dade mayor, cited a spate of child gun deaths in slamming incumbent Carlos Gimenez as a leader "who has singlehandedly dismantled the Miami-Dade Police force."
"When is Carlos Gimenez going to understand that the fundamental purpose of government is to insure the safety of its residents, to create and enforce laws that protect the public and to insure that those who violate the law are held accountable?" Regalado asked in a campaign email issued Thursday afternoon.
The email included images of crime scenes roped off by police tape, and cited several children killed by gunfire -- including six-year-old King Carter. He died Saturday while playing with friends outside an apartment complex in Northwest Miami-Dade. County detectives arrested two suspects on Wednesday in the homicide.
County budget documents show police staffing down slightly since Gimenez was first elected mayor in 2011. The prior year, Miami-Dade's police department reported 4,373 full-time posts and now reports 4,287 in the 2016 budget year, a 2 percent decline. Spending is up: from $576 million in 2011 to $597 million now. After a wave of retirements, the 2016 budget includes money for 125 new officers.
In a statement, Gimenez campaign spokesman Jesse Manzano-Plaza cited the 125 officers and said in part: “It is shameful that our opponent would be so insensitive as to take advantage of this community’s grief and pain to try and score political points. Her rambling and inaccurate statement conveniently leaves out Mayor Carlos Gimenez’ life-long commitment to keeping our streets safe – both as a fireman and paramedic, as well as Mayor of Miami-Dade County..." ( Regalado spokeswoman Elaine de Valle responded: "Of course it's political. Mayor Gimenez is the one whose decisions have decimated the police department.")
Regalado's email cites the ending of Miami-Dade's gang unit under Gimenez, which she said "provided assistance throughout the county when gang violence -- much like what we are experiencing now -- occurs."
"We didn't disband it. We integrated it into homicide," Gimenez said Thursday. " There are the same number of people involved in gangs as there were before...They did it for efficiency."
It wasn't a decision I made," he continued. "It was something they thought was better operationally."
Freddie Ramirez, the assistant police director in charge of investigations, said he wanted the 20-person gang unit folded into homicide in recent years as a way to improve coordination among detectives. He said the unit, now called the "Homicide Street Violence Task Force," operates under homicide but targets small street gangs for other crimes. "Drugs, guns, whatever we can do," he said.
In her email, Regalado pledged to reinstate the gang unit on her first day as mayor, as well as special robbery squad. "There is no better way to curb this gun violence than to have a robust police department capable of establishing a police presence and proactive approach to community patrolling," she wrote.