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Florida Mayor Comments On Partial Building Collapse, Biden Meeting

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're following important developments in South Florida, where a building collapsed overnight. A search and rescue effort is now underway after at least one woman was found dead. This building collapsed just north of Miami, and the mayor of Miami-Dade County is on the line to talk about that and much more. Daniella Levine Cava, welcome to the program.

DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA: Thank you so much. What a terrible tragedy for everyone.

INSKEEP: What have you learned about what kind of building it is or was and what happened?

LEVINE CAVA: Well, this is a 12-story building located right on the beach in Surfside, which is just north of Miami Beach in Miami-Dade County. It's the Champlain Towers South. There are investigators on the scene - fire, police, engineers. The municipality of Surfside is responsible for the police response but coordinating with multiple agencies, and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue is responsible for the emergency management of the site.

INSKEEP: When we think about a 12-story building, it's hard to tell - the images I've seen are from the nighttime - but it looks like a very large part of that building just pancaked - went down. We could have a large number of lives in danger here, I would think.

LEVINE CAVA: Yes, exactly. And it's too early to say, but, obviously, they've been on the scene all through the night. And people in the intact part of the building are being evacuated now. They have been evacuated.

INSKEEP: Needless to say, it's very early to ask what would cause a structural failure that massive. But what questions are officials asking at this early point?

LEVINE CAVA: Certainly they want to know the cause, but I think most importantly right now is they want to be sure that they can rescue everyone possible. And with the daylight, obviously, they'll be assisted in that effort.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, thank you for that update. I want to move on now to some other news because you've been in the center of quite a lot of it in the last 24 hours.

I want people to know, if they do not, Mayor Levine Cava, that you were among the mayors and other local officials who met with President Biden yesterday. And the president has been saying he wants to do something about a rise in gun violence. Let's listen to some of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That means Congress passing sensible gun prevention, violence prevention initiatives, is - makes sense - background checks, ban on assault weapons, repeal of liability shield for gun manufacturers. It means the Senate reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.

INSKEEP: The president also said there is money available in the American Rescue Plan that cities can use to fund police. So that's what he said, Mayor. What did you have to say to him?

LEVINE CAVA: You know, it was so encouraging to be with the president and others from around the country yesterday. He is sincerely interested in addressing this - he has done for his career. And the proposal that he has is going to immediately address the serious problem of illegal guns and enforcement there and also invest in prevention - working on keeping people out of a life of crime, supporting our law enforcement for their enforcement activities, but also making sure we stop the cycle of violence.

INSKEEP: We were looking at statistics from Miami-Dade County, which, of course, includes Miami and a bunch of other cities. And from what we saw, it appears that overall violent crimes are down recently, but that gun crimes are up. To the best you can determine, what's driving that?

LEVINE CAVA: Yes, this is across the nation that generally crime is down, but gun violence is up. And this is - as we're emerging, I'll say hopefully, from the pandemic, this is something that we believe is related to the incredible stressors, anxiety of this pandemic. Many people still economically affected - many had been isolated. As people are coming out - you know, in our case, in Miami-Dade, where we had a particularly violent Memorial Day weekend, this was targeted shootings, bad actors who saw opportunities, a lot of it on social media, where they went running to scenes where there were crowds and then shot indiscriminately into the crowds in order to attack people that they - with whom they had some sort of vendetta.

INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned the world emerging from the pandemic possibly being one factor here. I'm sure you're well aware of another factor that is raised, particularly by Republicans, but not exclusively by them. And that's the idea that police across the country are somewhat on their back foot because of protests, because of questions about their conduct, and maybe they're not enforcing the law in quite the same way. Do you find any evidence of that where you are?

LEVINE CAVA: Absolutely not. In fact, we have launched Operation Summer Heat after those horrendous incidents and all of our law enforcement working cooperatively. In the course of two weeks, they brought in 400 felons, 200 illegal firearms - quite incredible.

INSKEEP: So what do you want to do to make things better?

LEVINE CAVA: Look. We have to get the shooters off the street. We have to aggressively pursue the bad actors, and we have to make sure that there is no more coming along. We have to invest in young people to give them a sense of a brighter future, a sense that they don't need to go down that wrong path. And here in Miami-Dade County, we have launched an unprecedented peace and prosperity plan investing in exactly that - prevention, as well as giving our law enforcement the tools that they need to monitor social media - more cameras in high-crime areas, on-site prosecutors - but truly investing in the communities.

This is a cycle of violence. People are victimized. They're traumatized. They return fire. This is a cycle that we can break. We know how to do it. There are successful evidence-based programs, and we are doing them right here in Miami-Dade and across the country. We're going to lift up globally.

INSKEEP: Mayor Levine Cava, thanks so much for the time. Really appreciate it.

LEVINE CAVA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Daniella Levine Cava is the mayor of Miami-Dade County. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.