Government, Village Life

Commander Kerr Looks Out for Grovites

Commander Daniel Kerr of the Miami Police Department has led Coconut Grove’s police team for the past year. He is not anyone’s idea of a traditional cop.
 
For Kerr, a Miami native and an MPD stalwart since 1998, traditional policing hasn’t worked. It relies too much on numbers of arrests made, he says, and not enough on relationships between the police and the community. Kerr is determined to change that for Coconut Grove.
 
How nontraditional is he? For starters, several times a week, he bikes from his home in Miami Shores to his work in Coconut Grove and back. His route, which makes logistical sense in a way, is along Biscayne Boulevard. But, he says, “The most dangerous part of my day is my commute.”
 
He and his team members, often on bikes, have become a familiar sight at Coconut Grove events and neighborhood gatherings. Kerr thinks it’s better for an officer to spend time at local restaurants and events getting to know community members than cruising in cars waiting to make arrests.
 
In light of his family background, it can’t be a surprise that Kerr became an impassioned reformer. His father, a Catholic priest, came to Miami in the 1960s from Ireland to lead a church in Overtown. Realizing that so many children in the community lacked a good educational facility, he started a school. It was there he met his eventual wife, took leave from the church, got married, and had five children. “He never went back,” says Kerr.
 
His father biked to work in shirt and tie from the family home in South Miami. When his father began working in urban planning for Miami-Dade County, they walked the ground under the newly built Metrorail together and agreed it would be ideal for a bike path. “People said nobody would use it,” says Kerr, “and now it’s the Underline.”
 
When Kerr started as an officer in Coconut Grove during his early years with the department, he worked the midnight shift. “We were chasing drug dealers all night on Grand Ave.,” he says. “Now the Grove has changed dramatically.”
 
So, to some extent, has policing. At one point Kerr worked in Wynwood. “It was so packed and congested you couldn’t really drive there,” he says. “So I told the cops to get out of their cars and go talk with people. The higher-ups were furious because they would drive by and see a cop on the street standing on the corner with coffee, talking to people. They’d say, ‘What’s he doing?’ They’d pull up his numbers and there weren’t any. They’d call me into the office and say, ‘Your guy has no numbers. I saw him standing on the street.’ I’d say, ‘You saw him standing on the street? That’s his number—his communication, his availability, his getting into the neighborhood. That’s exactly what I told him to do.’”
 
Homelessness has become a big issue for the police. “It’s usually alcoholism, narcotics addiction, or mental health,” Kerr says. “Sometimes it’s all three. We go to Peacock Park every single night. There’s a law against sleeping in our parks at night unless the lights are on, so we arrest them. In the old days the mission was to arrest all the homeless in the parks. We’d be asked ‘How many did you get.’ It should be ‘How many did you help?’ Some of them are shelter-resistant. You just have to be relentless in trying to help them. We have some of the best resources anywhere for homeless people if they want them.” Kerr says the most recent census for homeless people in Coconut Grove’s parks was 18 but “That’s 18 too many.”
 
The most serious crimes in the Grove are car break-ins and thefts. Kerr says 90 percent of those involve cars with either the keys or valuables like laptops clearly visible. “Our vehicle break-ins are up 20 percent this year to date,” Kerr says. “That tells me that should be our highest priority.”
 
At community meetings, Kerr says, traffic and speeding in residential areas are usually the main issue. Residents often ask for stepped-up enforcement. But, says Kerr, the only way to slow Miami drivers down is infrastructure change in the neighborhoods—“things like traffic calming and road diets. Bayshore Drive should be one lane from Vizcaya to McFarlane. The only solution is to get cars back on Dixie Highway and out of our neighborhoods.”
 
Kerr readily acknowledges that many people don’t agree about the need to slow traffic. “I ride my bike every day down Biscayne Blvd.,” he says. “I’m six foot three with reflective clothing, and I still get hit. What chance does a little kid have? The only way we’re going to get the changes we need is through political will. It shouldn’t take somebody getting killed on the Rickenbacker for them to start doing infrastructure changes. I’ve never gone to a scene where a bicyclist killed a driver.”

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