Lonely at the Top

In 1969 a young cadet in the Baltimore County Police Department received the kind of progress reports that might have led a less determined man to start thinking about another career. In one evaluation, the trainee was criticized for failing "to support the other squad leaders" and to maintain morale. "The ratee has expressed a keen desire to become a Baltimore County Police Officer," wrote his instructor, "but it is the opinion of the rater that this inward desire of the recruit is not exemplified in his actions."

In an evaluation the following month, the cadet was criticized for his "extremely poor posture" and unruly hair. He was lambasted for his indifference and for doing "the minimum that is required." And he was accused of expressing himself "rather impetuously." As for the cadet's "general value" to the police department, a supervisor wrote: "Questionable."

The cadet, 21-year-old Phillip Huber, quickly proved his skeptical instructor wrong, and rose rapidly through the ranks of the police department, becoming the youngest person to attain the ranks of lieutenant, captain, major, and colonel (deputy chief). In May 1990, Huber was hired as chief of the Miami Beach Police Department -- a test of his experience and training if there ever was one. The department he inherited was beset by troubles -- from drug use among officers to charges of police brutality and discrimination to serious internal disorganization.

Huber was given a mandate to straighten out the place, and he did it with a zeal befitting his aggressive personality. He quickly instituted several new crime-fighting programs, restructured the chain of command, and made important top-level personnel changes. In the process of revamping the department, though, Huber has alienated several senior officers, some of whom, he believes, are now conspiring to run him out of town.

"You don't have any idea how complicated a personality he is," says one disgruntled commander. "He's got more energy than anyone I've ever met, he's got an excellent memory, he knows a thousand one-liners, he's well read, he knows a lot of people, he travels around the country. But he's not fit to clean

your bathroom. He's a prejudiced, abusive, manipulative, lying person. He shouldn't be a security guard, much less the chief of a major city that has its hands full of problems."

Huber's redesign has generated several federal discrimination complaints, and has also led members of the department to leak dozens of allegations to the media and to city and state officials charging the chief with financial impropriety and abuse of his position. An exasperated acting City Manager Carla Talarico says the infighting has gone too far. "It has gotten out of hand," she says. "We must get back to law enforcement. It's a vendetta between the chief and the command staff, and it's not doing the city or the citizens any good."

By the end of 1989, the Miami Beach Police Department was reeling from a series of high-profile and damaging investigations that exposed the organization's raw underbelly. An inquiry into the 1988 killing of Officer Scott Rakow had revealed after-hours socializing between police officers and drug dealers. A federal judge had upheld a female police officer's claims that male colleagues had sexually harassed her by moaning suggestively over police radios and placing a used condom in her mailbox. In April 1989, a prisoner died while hog-tied next to the exhaust pipe of a running police car, and in November 1989, a cabbie beaten during a routine traffic stop sued the department and won a $520,000 judgment.

The department was also in such internal disorder that a study conducted by an international police agency found overall operations to be "seriously flawed," a detective bureau with an "unacceptable" performance level, and a narcotics unit suffering "a general malaise.... The organization was, in many ways, fluid," the study says. "The department did not even have an organizational chart!" To make matters worse, Police Chief Kenneth Glassman was at war with the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police. "We got to where we didn't really listen to each other, we lost faith with one another," explains retired Lt. Mike Grant, a former FOP president. "Glassman was underhanded in his dealings with us."

Burdened by the department's worsening reputation and internal strife, Glassman announced his resignation in November 1989. "It was a department that was sloppily run, was full of spoiled brats, and was in a state of disarray," says Talarico, who at the time was an assistant city manager. "Their law enforcement capabilities were excellent, but their administrative capabilities were just terrible. They were a bunch of buffoons. Glassman used to turn the phones off in the chief's office at five o'clock and they

all used to go down to the gym to work out. The only way you could reach him was to page him there. That's how bad it had become."

The city needed a new police chief who carried a big broom, and a search committee began looking for candidates both inside and outside Miami Beach. "I was seeking someone who had a level-headed approach to community policing and was a team player," says former City Manager Rob Parkins. "Someone who had a sense of morale."

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