Miami Beach’s police chief has seen one shooting. He’s determined to prevent another.

On a recent Tuesday evening, three Miami Beach police officers stood in a lounge at a local hotel and delivered a grim message.

Shootings at schools, churches and synagogues might get the most national attention, they told a group of two dozen hotel employees. But statistics show that shootings happen much more frequently in areas of commerce — places with shops, restaurants and other businesses. In fact, they said, FBI statistics show that nearly half of the shootings in recent years took place in commercial areas.

“Look around you, folks. What is Miami Beach? One huge area of commerce,” said William Collado, an officer with the police department’s SWAT team. “Can you imagine an active shooter just walking up and down Lincoln Road? An active shooter walking up and down Ocean Drive?”

With the audience now paying close attention, officers Collado, Noel Castillo and Deborah Martineau launched into a presentation on how to respond to an active shooter and how to develop an emergency plan.

“Are you able to secure your entry from a threat to the exterior?” Castillo asked. “If the primary lockdown sites are compromised, where can people go?… An empty storage shed? An empty room? An empty office?”

It was a sobering presentation and one the officers have delivered to roughly 120 Miami Beach hotels, nightclubs, schools, synagogues, churches and condo associations in recent years.

The program began in earnest after the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. The police department had previously offered the training upon request, but after 49 people were gunned down at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, police were flooded with questions from local bars and clubs about what they could do to prevent a similar tragedy. In response, police began reaching out to area businesses and organizations to offer training.

Some local police departments, including in Doral, Coral Gables and Miami, also offer active shooter training to local businesses and institutions, while others, including Miami-Dade, do not. But Miami Beach pushes it more aggressively.


Miami Beach Police Officer Noel Castillo gives an active shooter presentation at a local hotel on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.


Each successive mass shooting has brought a spike in anxiety and a spike in requests for training: the Las Vegas shooting, which was carried out from a hotel room in a tourist city; the Parkland school shooting, which prompted a law requiring armed personnel to be stationed at every school; and most recently the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

“It seems that it’s never too far from home,” said Commissioner Micky Steinberg, who addressed members of the island’s Jewish community last fall at a security symposium hosted by the police department following the Pittsburgh shooting.

“In this day and age it’s so important, unfortunately, to have to go through these types of training sessions,” Steinberg said. “It’s a new world we live in.”

Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates knows this all too well. Oates was the chief of the Aurora Police Department in 2012 when a gunman opened fire in a movie theater in the Denver suburb.

Oates has since given countless presentations about the shooting to other police departments and brought the lessons he learned in Aurora to Miami Beach. He has made training local institutions a priority and requires his officers to go through active shooter training at least twice a year. The police department also visits local businesses and organizations to evaluate their security measures and requests copies of building blueprints to have on hand in case of an emergency.

“Obviously after Aurora I’m a bit obsessed with all things involving active shooters and the role of the police in protecting the community,” Oates said. “We in policing have to assume that this is a threat that’s going to exist in American society for the rest of our lives so we just need to do everything we can to be as prepared as we can.”

Recently, Oates said, there was so much interest in the training that the program had a backlog of requests. That’s largely because of the Pittsburgh shooting, he said, which hit especially close to home for Miami Beach’s Jewish community.


Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz places her hand on her heart as she and members of Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach gathered on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, for a service to remember victims of the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

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Jacob Solomon, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, said he’s seen an increase in security concerns since October.

“There’s no question that people are significantly more on edge and security has become much more top of mind for organizational leaders and participants in Jewish organizational life,” he said. “The fact that it took place in a synagogue on a Sabbath — it was just an alarming wake-up call that we need to be prepared all the time everywhere.”

But Solomon said that safety concerns have been on the rise among South Florida’s Jewish institutions since before the Pittsburgh shooting. The number of anti-Semitic incidents has increased in Florida and nationwide in recent years, prompting the Federation and other groups to bolster security. The Federation hired a former FBI special agent in 2016 to serve as its director of community security and advise local Jewish organizations on safety measures.

Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz of Miami Beach’s Temple Beth Sholom said the synagogue had begun increasing its security measures before the Pittsburgh shooting, including checking bags and photo IDs as worshipers enter the building.

“I think that the shooting validated the path that we were on, unfortunately,” she said. “We have very ample security at Temple Beth Sholom. I think we’re very fortunate to be able to do that. It’s costly to be able to do that.”

While Miami Beach’s Jewish institutions were willing to talk about their heightened security measures, local hotels were more reticent.

Hotels and other businesses are eager to train their employees, but they’re careful not to associate the company’s name with the words “shooter training.” The hotel where police delivered a training on a recent Tuesday allowed the Miami Herald to attend on the condition that the newspaper agree not to print the hotel’s name. Another area hotel kicked a reporter out of a presentation even though the police department had given the Herald permission to attend.

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Mourners pay their respects to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting by leaving flowers, photos, messages and candles in front of the building in Orlando, Florida.


Some local businesses already had robust emergency plans before the police training, while others had outdated and even risky procedures. One major hotel, for example, told the officers that its plan to notify guests of a threat was to pull the fire alarm, Castillo said. The police had to explain that the approach could draw guests out of the safety of their rooms and into public areas where they might be in harm’s way.

The only positive news in the presentation was the Miami Beach Police Department’s emergency response times, which at an average of one to one-and-a-half minutes are much faster than the national average. That means the police are more likely than their counterparts in other areas to arrive at the scene of a shooting while the attacker is still firing.

“When it comes to an active shooter, 60 seconds can mean many, many, many lives,” Collado said.

But at the end of the day, the best line of defense for employees and residents is to pay close attention to their surroundings, said Martineau, one of the officers who provides the training.

“You’re here every day, you’ll know what looks different, what smells different, something that is not right to you,” she said, urging the hotel employees to contact the police department if they notice anything suspicious. “We’re open 24 hours a day. We never close, 365 days a year. It’s never a bother. I would rather you be wrong, but I want to make sure that I come just in case you’re right.”