Friday, January 06, 2012

The way we were...Carl Hiaasen's Crime Prevention Tips for Tourists

Photograph © Brian Smith

Miami in the 1990's was a dangerous place for tourists.

In a March, 1991 story, the Miami Herald reported....
In less than 15 hours last weekend, three groups of tourists were robbed in North Central Dade, part of a recent rash of tourists being targeted by thieves, police said.
The three crimes reported Feb. 23 and 24 show how brazen the criminals have become:

* At 7:25 p.m. Feb. 23, a Coral Springs couple visiting Miami was stopped at a red light at Northwest 41st Street and 27th Avenue when three armed men rushed their car. When Isidore Greenman, 75, did not unlock his door, one of the men smashed a window and grabbed his wife's purse.

* About 10 a.m. Feb. 24, a French couple was duped into believing they had a flat tire near Northwest 54th Street and 27th Avenue. They were robbed.

* Fifteen minutes later, a German couple had pulled over at Northwest 82nd Street and Second Court to look at a map when two men robbed them at gunpoint.

Police reports indicate that tourists , driving rental cars, often are preyed upon at gas stations, fast-food restaurants and stop lights in an area bounded by 41st and 103rd streets, between Northeast Second and Northwest 27th Avenue. Repeated incidents have occurred at the corners of Northwest 103rd Street and Seventh Avenue, Northwest 62nd Street and 27th Avenue, and 79th Street and Seventh Avenue.
In late summer, 1991, car rental companies began removing bumper stickers and other insignia from their cars that might identify the occupants as tourists.

In mid-August, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce announced it would print 500,000 copies of a brochure "designed to warn visitors about local crime without scaring them," according to a Herald story.

In an August 19, 1991 column, the Herald's Carl Hiaasen came up with some Miami-specific tips on avoiding crime he hoped the Chamber would include in their brochure.

CARL HIAASEN, Miami Herald Columnist

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce needs $40,000 for a project that might save lives: A new brochure that will advise tourists how not to become the victims of crime.

This is a milestone in the annals of South Florida promotion. Finally the chamber is admitting, in writing, that there is a crime problem. It's a small brave step, and let's hope it gets done. Forty grand is peanuts compared to the millions spent to subsidize auto races, tennis tournaments and Super Bowls.

A few weeks ago, Hertz and other rental companies began unbolting the logos from their cars because so many customers had been attacked by smash-and-grab robbers. Tourists, unfortunately, make prime targets.

"Don't leave your common sense at home!" the new brochure tells visitors. Keep your car doors locked and your windows up at all times. Don't pick up hitchhikers. Be careful when using ATM machines. If confronted by an armed robber, don't resist. If a suspicious person approaches you at an intersection, look both ways before running the red light.

It's solid generic advice that applies to traveling in any big American city. Miami, though, is different from other big cities. Before the new pamphlet goes to press, some of the warnings should be modified to fit our unique style of crime.

From the moment a tourist steps off the plane at Miami International, he or she must be vigilant and alert:

* If someone offers you $5,000 to carry his "grandmother's suitcase" through Customs, don't do it.

* When renting a car, check the trunk for dead bodies. If you find one, tell the rental agent immediately -- not only are you entitled to a different car, but also to a free upgrade from compact to mid-size.

* If you're taking a taxi, beware of drivers who speak fluent English. They're obviously novices who couldn't find Coconut Grove with a cruise missile. Once you select a taxi, though, be courteous and tip generously. Recently a local cabbie was convicted of beating a customer to death in a dispute over a fare.

* Choose a hotel carefully, and remember: Location isn't everything. If the block is cordoned off with bright yellow tape, ask your driver to recommend another place.

* When checking in, ask the desk clerk to put your belongings in the safe -- not just your valuables, everything. Underwear, dental floss, sunblock . . . lock it up with your jewelry. Anything left in your suite is liable to be gone when you get back. (A friend recently had his shoes stolen from his room at a very famous Miami Beach hotel. He was told that it happens all the time; apparently there's a booming underground market for used footwear).

* When going outdoors, try not to dress like a typical hayseed tourist. For instance, don't wear black socks under your sandals, and don't tape one of those tiny plastic sun shields over your nose. And that $800 Nikon dangling from your neck might as well be a neon sign that says, "Mug Me!"

* When playing on the beach, don't leave cash hidden in your tennis shoes. As noted before, shoes get stolen.

* Be wary of roadside peddlers, common at South Florida intersections. If you're really in the mood for fresh guavas, fine. But if a guy comes at your car with a cinderblock, assume he's not trying to sell it to you. Step on the gas.

* If you must carry a purse or wallet during your visit to Miami, experts recommend securing it to your torso with a sturdy 42-inch length of galvanized chain and a single-action Master padlock. Arc welding is an optional precaution.

* No Rolexes, even fakes. Among thieves, these are almost as popular as second-hand shoes.

* When boating in the Atlantic, don't pick up any bales, floating duffel bags or plastic packages. These are often marked, "Made in Medellin."

* On the highway, be careful of police impersonators. Even with a blue flashing light on the dashboard, it's unlikely that a 1968 Fairlane with no hubcaps is being driven by a real cop. Don't stop until you find one.

* Finally, when asking strangers for directions, don't ever begin the conversation with the words, "Hi, we're from out-of- town . . . "

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