Many of the South Florida shootings this spring have been triggered by gangs battling in a different kind of turf war, law enforcement officials say.
It used to be a battle over territory to sell drugs that led to the violence, but now there’s a fight by rivals to outdo each other when it comes to scamming Covid relief funds and performing identity theft.
The federal government has rushed into help business and individuals with Covid relief money over the last year and police say that’s opened the door for efforts by organized units to steal identities, set up fake companies, and get huge amounts transferred to their bank accounts. That of course is quickly turned into cash and detectives say there’s a fight for it.
Halting that gun violence was the topic for discussion when Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo "Freddy" Ramirez attended a meeting that County Commission Chair Jose "Pepe" Diaz called this week.
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The meeting came as Miami-Dade Police are still trying to find out who fired on five people earlier this week. It was just the latest in a string of shootings in recent weeks.
"People are not afraid of picking up a gun," Ramirez said, adding what his detectives believe is the root cause of the trouble. "Fighting over proceeds from fraud, whether it be Covid fraud, credit card fraud, any component like that. Covid has done an economic issue for our community. So, how are they filling the gaps? Through fraud, through these issues, and it's manifesting itself into violent crime, strategic violent crime."
The county says less than one percent of the population is the cause of more than 70 percent of the gun violence.
"Those bad actors are getting involved, typically some of our hybrid gangs and other organizations taking advantage of that situation and when those proceeds aren’t shared appropriately amongst them it results in a gun violence situation and that’s what you are seeing right now," Ramirez said.
At the meeting with county commissioners, police said that over the last year with many kids not in school everyday — those without much structure at home — have been recruited and paid to be in on the illegal operations.
"We know that through Covid things have changed somewhat in the type of crimes that are taking place and especially in the younger ages that are doing this on their computer," Diaz said.
Even more disturbing, is police say the youngsters are being given weapons.
"We are seeing a lot that now the adults are arming our youth and aren’t showing up at school and don’t have a family unit at home they are being manipulated by these individuals putting a gun in their hands, taking advantage of the laws of the youth for juvenile crimes," Ramirez said. "That's why you are getting these killings."
Detectives said that these operations don’t want money in the bank, so they’re turning it into vast sums of cash that's kept in homes and those homes can become targets too, places where gunfire could erupt at any moment.
Police and the county say they are throwing all they have at stopping this and Diaz hopes that on May 4th at the next commission meeting he’ll have a concrete plan in place.