A commuinity watch sign is seen in a Seattle neighborhood in May 2012 as police investigate. The seeds of a Key Biscayne neighbordhood watch may have been planted after concern about children safety emerged following two cases involving allegations of sex crimes. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
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A day after the Village encouraged a neighborhood watch group to form, a family that runs a well-known martial arts studio planted the seeds. 

Morgan Duzoglou-Mariotti formed a WhatsApp group on Tuesday night called KB Guardians. By Thursday afternoon, there were 579 members. The group formed two days after a community forum on the safety of children on the island following well-publicized cases involving alleged sex crimes

“This has always been considered a very, very safe place but with the world changing and with society becoming what it is, there was a tremendous need for it,” she said.

According to City-Data.com, Key Biscayne’s crime index was 74 in 2020 – far lower than Coral Gables (138), Miami (291) and Miami Beach (487). The website analyzes data from a variety of government and private sources and found most crimes on Key Biscayne were property-related.

Duzoglou-Mariotti’s family has run for 20 years the Academy of Martial Arts on Key Biscayne and have long been civically minded.

Morgan Duzoglou-Mariotti established the WhatsApp group KB Guardians after Key Biscayne parents told her of concerns of child safety on island following allegations of sex crimes in two separate cases. (Photo/Provided by Morgan Duzoglou-Mariotti).

Her father, Robert Duzoglou, is the co-chair of the advocacy committee for the Chamber of Commerce. He has also been chair of the Rotary Club of Key Biscayne and was on the Vision Board.

Her brother, Derek Duzoglou, is chair of the Sustainability Advisory Board on increasing awareness of environmental issues for residents and businesses.

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Village Manager Steve Williamson, speaking at the “Protect our Children” education session on Monday night, encouraged a neighborhood watch group. However, he indicated that he wanted the Village to organize it.

“If you want to be a part of this task force, committee, whatever you want to call it, let’s get community involvement,” Williamson said.

With Police Chief Frank Sousa sitting nearby, Williamson added, “He only has so many people. Let’s reinforce what they can do.”

Right now, Duzolgou-Mariotti said she just wanted one place where the community can interact. 

KB Guardians had members joining by the minute but no comments – that’s because Duzoglou-Mariotti said she will not tolerate what is often found in some of the Village’s WhatsApp chats – gossip, complaining, speculation, false information or arguing.

The mission statement of the new group is to identify potential dangers to protect those vulnerable “”through education, advocacy, and community engagement.”

Neither Williamson nor Sousa responded to requests for comment about KB Guardians forming outside of the Village’s control. Williamson on Monday certainly did not encourage another WhatsApp chat, where citizens are reporting on social media what they should be telling the police.

“This police department is the most responsive you’ve ever had in any place you’ve lived – reach out to them, tell them what’s going on,” Williamson said. “I wish we could scour the chats – but that’s not where we need to be.”

Key Biscayne remains on edge since it became public that a local attorney, William McCaughan Jr., was arrested last summer on child pornography charges. Additional  charges filed last week allege  he lured two minors to engage in sexual activity and create child sex abuse material..

Police have also opened a new investigation into former Key Biscayne gymnastic coach Oscar Olea, Sousa said. 

A previous investigation last fall into allegations of Olea inappropriately touching two young students at FlipOut Workout did not result in any criminal charges. Women have since come forward, Sousa said, and the department is investigating along with the State Attorney Office and Miami-Dade Police’s Special Victims Bureau.

Olea has denied any wrongdoing to police and McCaughan Jr. has pleaded not guilty.

In recent weeks, residents have been making numerous reports of suspicious behavior of individuals – especially picture-taking of children.  Duzolgou-Mariotti said an individual took unsolicited photos of her 2-year-old at a Village park recently.

Monday’s meeting had three panelists from the State Attorney’s Office, including Alexandra Martinez, deputy commander for the Human Trafficking Task Force. It was Martinez who suggested a community crime watch.

“Whatever concerns you have working together, working together hand-in-hand with your police department. And as soon as anybody comes onto the island, there’s a big sign that says ‘This Village is a crimewatch area, which means all of us are going to have our eyes on you.”

Where do KB Guardians go from here? Will it be a proactive crime watch like the Guardian Angels of New York City?

Duzoglou-Mariotti says she doesn’t know yet. “It’s going to become what it needs to become to protect the children on the Key. We’re just at the starting point,” she said.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.