BY VYTENIS DIDZIULISIf you saw that item in this morning's paper you probably said to yourself that it appears that the police have once again made South Florida's streets a little bit safer.
North Miami Beach police and federal agents arrested 53 people in a two-day sweep ending Thursday that authorities said was a significant blow to local street gangs.
Operation Dead End, initiated after the slaying in North Miami Beach of off-duty Miami police Officer James Walker by a gang member in 2008, culminated a 15-month investigation into eight gangs that operated as far north as Plantation and as far south as South Miami, authorities said.
All of the usual press conference buzz words, quotes and catch phrases were in the story: "15 month investigation," "53 people arrested," "8 gangs," "We have made an impact...."
But CBS4's Jim Defede, who also attended the press conference announcing the arrests, wasn't impressed.
In a "web column" on CBS4's website, the former Miami Herald columnist proves once again, why he's one of South Florida's best newsmen.
DeFede takes a closer look at some of the numbers and claims made by cops at the press conference:
"...[W]as this really a major blow to gangs in North Dade?Compare DeFede's "web column" with the taped report that made air by DeFede's colleague Peter D'Oench.
Looking more closely at the charges, it was obvious the chief was padding his stats. Included in those 53 individuals were two homeless guys, one of whom was arrested for public intoxication. Another of the defendants was detained for not having a valid driver's license. Seven were charged with simple trespassing. There were also individuals arrested for disorderly conduct and for resisting arrest without violence.
Several times during the press conference the chief talked about how violent the drugs gangs are and how their use of assault weapons, such as the AK-47, have led to innocent civilians being killed.
But it is worth noting that in the course of 15 months, police only recovered six guns, and none of them were assault weapons. Obviously, getting six handguns off the street is better than leaving them in the hands of accused drug dealers, but the notion that Operation Dead End made a significant dent in the gangs' ability to perpetrate violence is clearly overstating it.
The press release for the arrests said the operation made an "impact" on eight gangs. But when asked at the press conference what kind of impact, the chief wasn't able to say.
In his report, D'Oench basically parrots the news release claims made at the press conference.
D'Oench is a South Florida veteran newsman who should know better.
D'Oench doesn't ask any of the hard questions that DeFede does.
And D'Oench conveniently finds a couple of relieved North Miami Beach residents who give him the perfect "sound bite" with which to end his report: "I'm very happy to be safe," said another neighbor, Sabrina Presume. "I feel safe."
Perahps if D'Oench had been doing his job he would have included this moment from the press conference recounted by DeFede:
The most surreal moment of the press conference, however, came when the chief, with much fanfare, held up a photograph of a poster from the movie Scarface, which was hanging on the wall of one of the houses they raided.DeFede continues:
The chief made a point of saying that it was Tony Montana – the Al Pacino character from the famous movie – that these gang members idolized and sought to emulate with their violent ways.
To which I told the chief: "Either that or they're just really big Pacino fans."
Not surprisingly, it was around this point in the conversation that Chief Hernandez called me "a smart ass."
The chief is right. I was being glib. But it came out of frustration with these sorts of dog-and-pony-show press conferences that appear designed to convey the sense that something more is happening than actually is.And DeFede has every right to be frustrated.
But perhaps some of that frustration should be directed at his bosses at CBS4 who send reporters like D'Oench to cover press conferences that make the evening news without so much as a hard question and bury DeFede's reporting on the Internet.
In closing: Are the streets of North Miami Beach safer?
That might depend on which CBS4 reporter you ask.