Aside from Miami-Dade County’s lay off of 21 employees in the last couple of months to help deal with what Mayor Carlos “Not So Golden Boy” Gimenez says is a bulging budget shortfall, the incoming crop of new police officers has been cut in half from four academy classes to two.
But Gimenez assured commissioners in the memo about budget cuts and layoffs he sent Thursday that the smaller number of recruits would “have minimal impact on our police coverage.” He said the department is in the middle of a restructuring process that will take officers from specialized investigative units and put them on the street.
That sounds good.
What he didn’t say is that these units include the narcotics unit and the economic crimes unit, which are now less able to follow up on those cases. What he didn’t say is that the county police department is already short between 250 to 800 officers, depending on who you ask and what levels you go by. What he didn’t say is that the gaping hole in the force could become a crater in the next two years as between 250 and 350 more officers retire. What he didn’t say is that there is already a growing backlog of cases and not enough cops to work them.
“Let’s take homicide, for example. We have thousands of leads on open murder cases and they can’t follow up because they don’t have enough detectives,” Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera told Ladra, adding that the Tactical Narcotics Team and the Robbery Intervention Detail — two pro-active units that target repeat, violent criminals — had also been decimated.
“And when we do away with the economic crimes unit, we are not going to be able to follow Medicaid fraud and credit card fraud and identity theft and those crimes will go up because people who do identity theft will know they can come to Miami-Dade and go to town,” Rivera said.
Veteran officers told Ladra that the rank and file know that the increase in crime and shootings in the Northside are linked to the shrinking of the TNT and RID undercover street units whose job it was to patrol in muscle cars, looking out for criminals on the prowl. Furthermore, they said, more cases countywide remain unsolved because while there may be officers to respond and write an initial report after a burglary or domestic crime, there are fewer detectives to follow up on those reports and actually investigate anything.
“I’ll write it up, but that’s where it will sit,” one officer said, “if you don’t have the investigators to follow up.”
Several officers said that statistics were being fudged by having robberies categorized as thefts and emergency calls made non-emergency calls. “People complain they can’t get an officer for a couple hours,” Rivera said. “We are asking people to go online and file their own reports.”
And, perhaps most concerning, the perception of putting more officers on the street is false, sources say. “Smoke and mirrors,” said one detective.
According to someone who regularly attends roll calls, squads are operating, on average, with one sergeant and four officers. And on any give day one officer may be sick and another may be in court. So you really just have two. If one officer makes a stop and, voila, there is suddenly a bench warrant, now she or he is out transporting a prisoner to TGK or DCJ. That leaves one officer to cover the area.
“We’re so damned shorthanded right now it’s not even funny,” Rivera said, adding that while there are about 250 vacancies, police force staffing totals at 3,100 (we have about 2,840-something) are down triple that compared to 20 years ago because of eliminated positions.
“They keep cutting positions from the books. Then they say ‘We are not short. We don’t have those positions,'” Rivera explained. “On the books, we are about 250 short. But in reality, we are 600 to 800 short in terms of where we once were.
“We keep telling the people that we have community policing. That’s a crock of shit. We don’t have community policing anymore,” Rivera told Ladra Friday morning.
Now, of course people are going to say that Rivera is being political because of his way public, palpably hostile relationship with Gimenez — who also conveniently dismantled the public corruption unit last year and said it had nothing to do with the absentee ballot fraud investigation of his 2012 campaign. After all, the PBA supported former Mayor Carlos Alvarez against the recall and then former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina in 2011 and then former County Commissioner Joe Martinez in 2012 and basically will support anyone but our current mayor.
But Ladra spoke to several other county cops — all of whom will remain nameless because they are afraid the “vindictive” mayor would assign them the midnight shift in Overtown — and county insiders who confirmed what Rivera said and offered more information.
The cargo theft unit, which handled crime at what county officials proudly proclaim is the busiest port in the country? Gone. The auto theft task force that stopped thieves from shipping stolen cars overseas? Gone. The medical crimes squad that busted illegal dentists working out of their garages? Gone. The counterfeit merchandise squad that recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in Rolex rip-offs and bogus designer bags? Gone. The “squatters unit” that targeted opportunists who illegally move into foreclosed homes and cause startling crime spikes in residential neighborhoods? Gone.
Gone, too, will be hundreds of police officers soon. According to the department’s records, there are 55 officers leaving at the end of this summer because they have to. They are in the Deferred Retirement Option Program and must leave by the end of this fiscal year. Twenty others not in the DROP have submitted their paperwork for retirement this year, including Billy Hernandez, who announced Friday he was hired as assistant chief in North Miami. But that’s just the start of the “tsunami” that police brass have warned the mayor about. In 2015, another 69 officers have to retire because of the DROP. In 2016, it goes up more, to 117. And that does not count the 100 or so officers eligible to retire at any given time if they feel like they’ve had enough of this crap.
But, five months before that, we’ll have more vacancies and another problem because five members of the eight in the command staff will be gone in January of 2016 and will need to be replaced by majors who need to be replaced by lieutenants who will need to be replaced by sergeants and so on.
And since every new officer hired has to ride with a field training officer — who is also sorta taken out of regular service, or half taken out to train the rookie — for four months after the eight months of academy before he or she can pick up the radio and say “09-QSK,” it does not seem that the county is prepared for it.
“Come on! Who is going to believe that if you cut resources you are going to have the same level of protection,” asked one veteran cop. “It’s obvious to everyone that he is feeding that line to the commissioners and the public because he is doing what is politically expedient for him.”
“He doesn’t really care about the safety of the public,” Rivera said about the mayor.
“Him being mayor is all about him and feeding his ego and feeding his psyche, it is not about the community. The mayor and the county keep putting out false information. We are playing with numbers,” he said. “And at the end of the day, the director can’t refute it. His head will be on the chopping bock.”
But by the looks of it, practically all the heads at the police department are on that block already.