Miami-Dade Police use reward cards to solve child homicides
MIAMI (AP) — The Miami-Dade Police Department’s newest crime-fighting tools are baseball-like cards with QR codes on the back, similar to those that have replaced paper menus in restaurants during the pandemic.
But the faces on the front of these cards aren’t professional athletes. They’re the faces of Jada Page, Carnell Williams-Thomas, Elijah LaFrance and Angelo Guzman— all children killed by gunfire in unsolved homicides, some that have vexed detectives and family members for more than half a decade.
“These are the babies of our community right here. Now we’re giving the community a seat at the table,” Miami-Dade Police Director Freddie Ramirez said Tuesday morning in announcing the initiative, the first of its kind nationwide, according to police.
The two-and-a-half- by three-and-a-half-inch green cards have the faces of victims on the front with their names and dates of birth. The top of the card says “Help Us Solve Cases.” Flip the card over and it says “REWARD” with the case number underneath.
Below that is the QR code, the number to Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers and a promise that anyone providing information will remain anonymous. By using the camera feature on a cellphone and touching the screen, information on the homicide pops up that is usually accompanied by a video of a homicide detective explaining what happened.
Elijah, for instance, was only 3 years old on April 24 when gunmen with semi-automatic rifles pulled up to the front of the North Miami-Dade home his parents had rented for the child’s birthday party, and opened fire. Elijah was shot and killed. In the video Detective Kevin Thelwell says the shooting was so heinous the police director made the department’s entire resources available to solve the crime.
“This was despicable. This was callous. These were cowards,” Thelwell says in a slickly produced video.
Another card has Jada’s picture. She was only 8 in August 2016 when she was shot and killed near her front porch while getting ready to go to the movies with her father. He was also shot, but survived.
Carnell Williams-Thomas was only 2 when he was shot and killed playing with his new scooter outside of his Arthur Mays Villas home in South Dade four years ago.
Also on a card is Angelo Guzman. The young teen’s life ended on Sept. 19 when he was gunned down in a South Miami-Dade park he was visiting with family.
“A 14-year-old boy is no longer with us,” Homicide Detective Edhy Mederos says in yet another video. “Angelo was just starting his life.”
The plan is for officers to distribute the cards to family, friends and residents. Police also hope to place stickers with the same QR codes on business fronts and make cards available at supermarkets and pharmacies or anywhere groups of people might gather.
“Anything that’s going to help, as long as it’s protecting witnesses,” said anti-violence activist Tangela Sears, who lost a son to gunfire six years ago. “I’m all for getting information out and finding solutions to these violent crimes.”
The initiative was announced Tuesday morning at Miami-Dade Police headquarters in Doral.
County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said it was just another instrument police could use in addition to operations Summer Heat and Community Shield — which flooded high-crime areas with police presence — to fight crime. The mayor said those efforts have been “wildly successful” and that shootings are down more than 50 percent since the programs went into effect over the summer, compared to the same time period a year ago.
“Tools like this gets us justice,” she said.
Even Miami-Dade Homicide Major Jorge Aguiar made a rare appearance, calling homicides the most “heinous” crime in society.
“It destroys family members and it changes and terrorizes communities,” said Aguiar. “The most important thing we can receive from the community is information.”