From The Miami Herald, Sep. 08, 2003
Cops go beyond the call of duty for exclusive residents

When their lights go out, they call the cops.

When their garage door opener is on the fritz, they call the cops.

When their dog groomer quits, they call the cops.

They are the 33 residents of Indian Creek Village, one of the wealthiest -- and most heavily policed -- communities in the nation.

The tiny department -- 10 officers and four civilians -- has the highest ratio of police to residents of any law enforcement department in the state, maybe even the country. Its motto: ``Protecting and servicing America's most exclusive municipality.''

With two boats, a police cruiser, a 4x4 (for emergencies on the golf course) and an electric golf cart (presumably for nonemergencies on the golf course), the officers patrol a two-mile road and the water around the island.

''We've had one crime in the past three years,'' Chief Clarke Maher said. ``That's our whole job, to make sure there is no crime.''

The crime -- a stolen cellular phone. It was recovered before the thief got off the island. No one remembers anything like a murder ever occurring on the island.

''It gets around to the criminal element that it's going to be a tough nut to crack,'' said officer Terry Owens, a 12-year member of the department.

The key is isolation. Only residents, their guests and members of the private country club can get past the gated bridge onto the island in Biscayne Bay. There's only one way in and out, through the town of Surfside. And the police make sure no one is able to boat, float or swim up from the bay.

''Not that it's a crime to be too close to the island, but we're dealing with some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world, not just South Florida,'' Maher said. ``These people want their privacy. That's why they moved to the island.''


Respecting that, Maher won't name any of the residents. A few are already well known: Don Shula. Julio Iglesias. Norman Braman.

The Hoovers, of vacuum cleaning wealth, have left. And an Arab sheik, Turki bin Abdul Aziz, is gone, his house bulldozed after he abandoned it during the first Gulf War.

''That's one less house I have to worry about,'' Maher said, driving past the empty bayfront lot.

He calls his job ``the epitome of community policing.''

''We know everyone. We know their gardeners. We know their housekeepers. We know their dogs,'' he said. ``We know their lives.''

The police even know which boats are supposed to be at which docks.

'I'll call up and say `Hey, Coach, I didn't see your boat; is it out somewhere?' '' he said, recalling a conversation he once had with a well-known ex-football coach who has dolphin topiary in his yard.

Turns out the boat was dry-docked.

Maher is proud of his little department, where every officer carries a cardiac defibrillator -- one resident's life has been saved with the device. He's already got a security system to catch anyone trying to climb onto the bridge. He's planning a perimeter of invisible alarms around the whole island, so no one can get on undetected.


He boasts that his department has the only municipal marine unit on the water 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

''Other departments say they do, but we're the only ones who are always on the water,'' he said.

The residents of the island, which is less than a square mile, seem to appreciate the personal and intensive service, which costs them a bundle.

The 33 households pay some of the highest taxes in the county, enough to cover the village's $2.5 million budget, most of which goes to the police department.

''We have a lot of high-profile people on the island. That's what they want,'' said Dr. Jose Gilibert, a member of the village council. ``If you want the best, you have to pay for it. I love my police department.''

Mayor Anne McDougal, reached in North Carolina, echoed that sentiment.

''Is it expensive? Yes it is,'' she said. But the benefits are obvious. ``Why would anybody come to rob a place with that many police officers?''

Maher, a vice cop in North Miami Beach for years before working in Indian Creek, has only begun to get accustomed to serving the super-rich.

''You'd think it would be extremely intimidating, and it can be at times,'' he said. ``These are very powerful people.''

But he and several other officers said the residents are never condescending -- and they fork over enough to keep the police well compensated.


Maher was tapped to be chief when the previous one was asked to resign last year, after what Maher describes as a personality conflict with village leaders. The island has had a bit of trouble over the years with the police department. In 1987, an officer was suspended when he tried to arrest a socialite living on the island.

The arrest was never completed, the speeding ticket torn up and the officer eventually reinstated.

And then there was the little drug scandal.

''At one time, [the officers] were protecting dope shipments coming up the creek,'' Maher admitted, clearly embarrassed, even though it was before his time.

Now his officers are serious, honest law enforcement agents, he said. And he's come to terms with the ''butlers with badges'' image, a term coined by a disgruntled former officer.

When the lights went out at one resident's home, he called Florida Power & Light to get someone to fix it promptly. When a garage door opener broke, an officer went out to tinker with it and got it working again. And he once called around and found a list of reputable pet groomers.

But service with a smile goes only so far, even for Indian Creek's men -- and one woman -- in blue. Actually, they wear black. And they don't take anyone's garbage out.

''There were times when they did pick up the newspaper if it didn't land on the porch,'' he said. ``We don't do that anymore.''