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Understanding 2021's Rise In Gun Violence

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

2021 is on a pace to be the most violent year for the U.S. in two decades. Over 120 people in America died in shootings last weekend alone, with at least three mass shootings in Austin, Chicago and Savannah. In May, there was a 28% increase in homicides in Philadelphia, 76% in Tucson, 23% in New York. Many reasons are advanced - the rise in unemployment, an increase in gun sales, a decline in some police patrols, a rise in inequality. What can local officials do to try to stop the bloodshed and loss now?

We turn to Art Acevedo, chief of the Miami Police Department, former chief in Houston and Austin. Chief Acevedo, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

ART ACEVEDO: Hey. Good morning. Thank you, Scott. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Homicides are up, as I don't have to tell you, 9.3% in Miami, forcible sex offenses by 28.4% since last year. What do you do to stop that tonight, this weekend?

ACEVEDO: Well, what we're doing here in Miami is we're actually putting more officers out in our areas where we know we're having gun violence. And with a higher visibility, higher enforcement, we're actually - have seen a reduction of about 50% of where we were headed. So even though we're up, the increase is starting to start to slow down a little bit. But there's a lot of work to be done, and it's going to have to include a lot more folks, a lot more entities other than just the police. It's going to have to be all hands on deck.

SIMON: Well, you mentioned increasing patrols in areas that are considered to be high-crime. That is exactly what a few months ago a number of people across the country were complaining about, that people who live in those areas feel that the patrols and vehicle searches and stopping people on the street makes them feel like they're living in occupied territory.

ACEVEDO: Yeah. Well, look; having visibility is part of the equation. Making sure that you're treating people right and that you're following the Constitution and that you're not just stopping people because of the color of their skin or the neighborhood that you live is the other part of the equation. We're not out there to harass anyone. We're out there for the increased visibility because I can assure you that the one thing some of the - a lot of these shooters fear is prison. They don't fear death, but they do fear prison. And they're more likely than - not going to sit there and start shooting at a bunch of folks with police officers and police cars ready to chase them if it were to occur in our presence.

And so it's just - not just a matter of the increased presence. It's also making sure that you have the proper supervision, the proper oversight and the proper mindset in terms of how we approach the way we treat the community. I think when we do that, people appreciate you. If you harass them, then they become, I think, upset, and you start heading in your relationship in the wrong direction. So we haven't seen any complaints so far, and I think that's a testament to the professionalism of our men and women here in Miami.

SIMON: Doesn't sound like you think this is a good time to reduce police resources. I won't use that red flag of a word defund.

ACEVEDO: (Laughter) Yeah. No, I don't think - look; we need to really do a better job of making sure we have the right resources, the right officers, the right training, the right approach. And quite frankly, when you talk to communities that are impacted by violent crime, if you tell them that you're going to reduce police resources or defund, which I'll use that term because some - many do, they'll tell you, absolutely not. We want to feel safe. We want to be safe. We want to be treated with respect. And we want better police and not less policing and enhanced security.

And so again, it's not about less or about more or less. It's about the right approach. It's about respecting the Constitution, and it's about respecting people when you come in contact with them. I think when you do that, you end up gaining the trust and the cooperation of the community, which is what we should all be hoping to accomplish.

SIMON: Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo, thanks so much.

ACEVEDO: Take care, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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