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An expert on organizing neighborhood watch groups in crime-ridden areas in Miami-Dade County appeared puzzled Thursday about calls to form an anti-crime group on Key Biscayne in the wake of two different felony child sex cases. 

“Right now you’re in a place that’s very safe in comparison to other areas we come from,” said Vivian Havlin, executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade County Inc., a non-profit organization.

Village Manager Steve Williamson and Police Chief Frank Sousa invited Havlin and coordinator Larix Lebon to come and speak to residents who have expressed interest in forming a neighborhood watch after the arrest of a local lawyer and a longtime gymnastic coach on child sex charges.

“I’m here to advocate for the children,” said Robert Duzoglou, a martial arts studio owner whose family came forward last month to form the KB Guardians, the initial attempt at some type of neighborhood watch.

A second competing WhatsApp group, KB Island Safe, was started by activist Louisa Conway, a former council candidate

It quickly became apparent Thursday there was little consensus among residents on what a neighborhood watch group would look or what it would do on Key Biscayne.

Residents who attended the meeting spoke about vehicle theft, others about disrespectful youth and there was a discussion about traffic. Residents also expressed concerns that a neighborhood watch would infringe on people’s privacy or that it would be political. 

“You guys are telling me different things and I’m trying to absorb the information. So then we can go back and figure something out,” Havlin said.

Many who attended the meeting frequent the WhatsApp chats complaining about the police and assertions — without evidence — that Key Biscayne has become dangerous. With Havlin ready to help, suddenly they sang a very different tune.

“So we are safe,” said Conway, who often criticizes Village leaders on topics ranging from taxes to traffic. “I know that’s why many of us moved here.”

There are many different crime metrics, but one indicator is a community’s arrest rate per 100,000 population. Figures from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for 2020, the latest year available, showed Key Biscayne’s arrest rate was among the lower in Miami-Dade County.

Conway and the KBNA politcal group spearheaded a petition that led to the public safety forum last month. The session came in the wake of the arrest of lawyer William McCaughan Jr. for possessing and soliciting of child pornography and the investigation into gymnastic coach Oscar Olea that he allegedly raped teen students more than a decade ago. 

Officials have said the state and federal cases are not related. Both McCaughan Jr. and Olea have pleaded not guilty.

After the KBNA promoted the forum intensely, it drew only about 30 islanders. 

Now, Conway seems to focus on not homegrown threats but people who travel to Key Biscayne for sun and fun.

“So we have strangers coming through here constantly. So having some sort of watch patrol is really critical because our police cannot be everywhere,” she said.

Sousa appeared to acknowledge that it’s been a rough few weeks for his department. On Monday,  the Independent reported that the chief investigator in the Olea case made lewd jokes and denigrated witnesses on a recording after interviewing an alleged victim.

“We’re not perfect. We’re human. We’re going to make mistakes,” said Sousa, who clarified he was not directly addressing the Olea case. “And you’ve always heard me say, when we’re right, we’re right and we’re wrong, we’re wrong.”

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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.

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.