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After Liberty City In 1980, Miami Police Learned Riot Lessons Well With AM-Overtown Riot Bjt

January 18, 1989

MIAMI (AP) _ When devastating urban rioting hit Miami in 1980, few police officers had special training and the city paid for it.

″In 1980, we had the worst riot in the history of the United States. It started with murder and got worse. There were short budgets, police departments were understaffed,″ said George Green, 46, who retired from the department as a captain in 1985.

In the racial violence of 1989, however, the Miami and Metro Dade police have a plan, thanks to Green.

″I would say Miami is one of the few towns that has citizens who are disturbance-trained,″ said Miami police spokesman Sgt. David Rivero. ″They know what to do. That’s an unfortunate thing to say about this town, but it’s a fact.″

In 1980, when riots that killed 18 people and injured hundreds hit the Liberty City neighborhood, the Miami police force had only 670 officers and there was no master plan.

People traveling through the riot area were dragged from their cars and killed, some even mutilated. Police officers were trapped alone, barriers weren’t set up properly.

″It was a whole bunch of police officers trying to do the job, but not as a cohesive group,″ said Green.

″If things could go wrong, they probably did,″ he said. ″But those lessons were well-learned.″

Today, police move in coordinated ″field force″ units, groups of eight or more cars with four men in each. Squad leaders are named. Each officer has certain duties: some watch the cars, others carry the tear gas, others drive.

Whenever one car in the field force moves, all of the cars move. Quick action is taken to set up perimeters, limiting movement of people into and out of a trouble zone.

Rivero says the force is trained for about 10 hours every six months. ″We go out and pretend that we’re out there fighting a disturbance, have policeman posing as rioters.″

Green suggested after the 1980 riots that a new approach was needed and was told: ″You are elected. You are now known as the urban crisis officer.″

It turned out to be a prudent move.

″The biggest thing that became apparent to me was that police officers on a daily basis are trained to deal with the public in a positive manner,″ he said. ″But in a civil disorder it is the police against the citizens.

″It’s difficult to go from service-oriented to a military-type approach,″ he said.

He read military literature and considered the tools available. The field force system he developed for Miami became a popular one in law enforcement.

Dade County adopted the system. Tampa adopted elements of it. Officials from Chicago, Los Angeles and New Orleans and England have studed the approach.

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