Miami, Florida, attracts a significant number of tourists
each year. The climate of the city acts as a magnet to those
city must remain attractive to vacationers. One way to ensure
this is to reduce the number of crimes committed against
To protect visitors from the city's criminal element, the
Miami Police Department instituted Operation STAR (Safeguarding
Tourists Against Robberies). The department took this action
Increasingly, vacationers and business travelers were
becoming the prey of criminals. Those committing crimes would
target people driving rental vehicles, knowing that the
occupants always carried money, cameras, or other valuables.
Also, since these victims were from out of town, they usually
and the criminals realized this.
Criminals developed innovative approaches to their victims.
One method was to bump the rear of the victims vehicle with
their own. The victims, believing they were involved in a minor
accident, would exit their vehicle to assess the damage. When
they did this, the criminals, using force or at gunpoint, would
Another effective method was to pull alongside vehicles and
When the occupants stopped to investigate, they would fall
victim to the robbery. Or, the criminals would simply drive
through areas of the city looking for people trying to read a
map. They would then approach the vehicle, as if they were
commit the robbery.
The department realized that it must take a proactive
approach to this problem. One idea that surfaced was to conduct
tourist populations. This decoy operation was given the name
To begin, two Operation STAR teams were formed. Each
consisted of a sergeant and seven officers, one of whom was
female. It was decided to use a female decoy officer to
ncrease the appearance of vulnerability.
The decoy would stop her rented vehicle in one of the
targeted areas and raise the hood to make it appear as a
as if she was calling to get directions. At all times, the
other officers, riding in an undercover vehicle, kept the decoy
under surveillance, including the use of a video camera. A
video tape showing what transpired during the robberies was
especially useful for prosecution.
Oftentimes, people from the area offered to assist the
female decoy officer. On one occasion, a vehicle with three
occupants drove past the decoy vehicle and noticed the lone
female. They circled the block and parked their vehicle nearby.
One suspect stayed in the car with the engine running, while the
other two approached the decoy officer. As they began to walk
toward the decoy, a tow truck operator stopped to help the
not want his help. Seeing this, the two suspects then walked
back to the car and departed the area.
USE OF THE MEDIA
The department decided to conduct a media blitz of
Operation STAR to deter criminal activity. News personnel from
a local television station were invited to ride with the STAR
teams and video tape what transpired. Because of the wide
they were really visitors or the decoy team in action.
The Operation STAR teams enlisted the help of the
offenders had several previous arrests, mostly for robbery.
This fact resulted in many remaining in custody with increased
bonds and facing longer sentences upon conviction.
Operation STAR continues to shine in Miami. During the
nitial operation, the city realized a 12-percent reduction in
months of Operation STAR, showed the lowest number of robberies
Because of the success of Operation STAR, the department
formed a new detail that will work only decoy operations,
although using different scenarios. Hopefully, tourists will
visits to Miami enjoyable by ensuring that they are crime-free.
Commander M. Frank Shonberger, Crime Scene Investigation
Unit, and Sgt. Bradford Swink, Supervisor of the Robbery Detail,
Miami, Florida, Police Department, provided the information for