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Miami's Police Chief Blames Several Factors For The Spike In Violence

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

It's been a violent summer and a violent year. Guns are a big part of the problem, and there's been a significant uptick in violent crime in cities across the country. In March, the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice released a report. And it found that in the first three months of this year, the number of homicides in 34 cities was 24% greater than in the same period last year and 49% higher than the first quarter of 2019.

I spoke with Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo - he's also the president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association - about what he believes is contributing to the crime spike.

ART ACEVEDO: It is a series of factors. Number one, the gun sales are, you know, at historical highs, and they've increased significantly across the nation. The economy, COVID, with something I think is going to be really talked about is the criminal justice system. It's just - courts have not been working in the - at the local level. And on top of that, we have judges, quite frankly, that - in too many places and district attorneys across the nation that are acting more like defense attorneys than they are prosecutors and, I would say, pursuers of justice for the victims.

And we have people - the suspects charged with attempted murder, with murder, with aggravated assaults that are going in one door and being treated like misdemeanants and out the other door with bond after bond after bond. And that's getting people killed in a lot of cities across the nation.

MARTINEZ: So you're saying that judges are being too soft right now on crime?

ACEVEDO: Well, I mean, I would say they're being activist judges. And unfortunately, as much transparency as we have in law enforcement in terms of the - in the criminal justice system in the cog called law enforcement with body-worn cameras, in-car cameras and all the cameras in society that capture the actions of police officers, there's very little transparency in terms of what's going on with prosecutors, district attorneys and judges.

MARTINEZ: Earlier, you mentioned gun sales. Are you talking about legal gun sales as contributing to the rise in violence?

ACEVEDO: I'm talking about legal gun sales, illegal gun sales, straw purchasers. We're seeing a lot of shootings of passion where people that know each other just - you know, they get in an argument, and next thing you know - because there has been a proliferation of firearm sales in our country and more and more first-time gun owners since COVID struck. We're seeing a lot of road rages. We're just seeing a lot of gun violence that is driven by, you know, spark-of-the-moment emotion. And it's something that we haven't seen these numbers in a long, long time in this nation. And it's something that really has us worried.

MARTINEZ: So limiting the sales of guns, you think, might be a preventative measure?

ACEVEDO: Well, I don't know about limiting it, but we certainly need to take a look at the straw purchasers, the gun show loophole.

MARTINEZ: What is a straw purchaser?

ACEVEDO: A straw purchaser is someone that has the ability to buy firearms. They're kind of a go-between. They buy them at a gun store, and then they sell them to somebody else. So, basically, they're gun traffickers - is what they are. Unfortunately, we don't have any significant consequences even at the federal level for people that are engaged in that conduct.

MARTINEZ: What will you suggest the Biden administration do when it comes to this rise in crime?

ACEVEDO: Plead our federal partners to continue to leverage the full ability and the resources of federal government to help combat the violence in our streets. And we need to invest in pre-K education and quality education and jobs training programs and summer programs for kids because the more we invest in people today, the less crime, I believe, we're going to have tomorrow.

MARTINEZ: I'm wondering for you, Chief, when it comes to people of color who don't trust police, what kinds of things are you doing to try and build those relationships?

ACEVEDO: Like I tell my officers, you can't build trust. You can't build respect. You can't build cooperation by driving around at Mach 5, you know, in a neighborhood going from call to call to call, while we're telling our officers, get out of the cars. Talk to people. And most importantly, let's show respect. So an engagement in a respectful manner is the key to it and accountability. We just had five police officers in Miami Beach that were charged - you might have seen that - in the beating of an individual that occurred about 10 days ago. And when people see officers being held accountable, I think that goes a long way in building trust.

MARTINEZ: Art Acevedo is chief of the Miami Police Department. Chief, thank you very much.

ACEVEDO: Thank you. Have a great week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.