“Operation Safe Holidays” is up and running in the city of Miami.
The special patrol puts more officers on the city's streets, with a special focus on holiday shoppers and quality of life crimes.
Officer Chris Vital spends many a night like he did Thursday night – as one of dozens of officers on patrol in Coconut Grove. Vital says there's no better way to see the neighborhood’s streets than by foot. With every step, he snaps a mental picture.
“Every time I'm walking, you're always looking around, just to see who you have here,” said Vital, as a NBC 6 South Florida reporter accompanied him on patrol. “For example, right along this way, we had exactly 10 people sitting on their benches. We got two men here, we have a group of ladies down there.”
Also on watch with police are Coconut Grove businesses. One restaurant owner greeted him warmly.
This time of year, Vital says, the Grove sees a pickup in foot and car traffic. Many people come from all over to eat and shop, and, sometimes, unknowingly, can become crime targets.
“You just have to pay attention to your surroundings, and trust your instincts. I tell people that all the time,” he said.
Vital is on the lookout for panhandlers, thieves and other quality of crime offenders.
On a patrol like the one he was on Thursday night, he caught a man breaking into a car, he said.
“He ditches the coat hanger, and now he's pulling out a screwdriver,” Vital recalled. “He works on the door, works on the door. He pops it open, opens up the door.”
Thursday’s patrol took Vital and NBC 6 past the shops and restaurants and into areas where Vital says police have to work harder to connect.
“What you see is a total dichotomy between one side of 32nd Avenue, and then the other side of 32nd Avenue where if I wave over here, they're not going to wave back. They're walking away from me,” he said.
Walking the beat is about being proactive rather than reactive, Vital said.
“And it’s just about being a presence – it’s about being there to help prevent something from happening,” he said.