Tough Guys Die Hard

When Miami Beach's top administrator decided to tangle with the city's top cop, everyone knew it would get rough. It's been very rough.

Innocence wasn't an issue. Of course he was innocent. The question, in his mind, was how best to exact his revenge, and on whom. This nightmare was the sophisticated plot of a small cadre of disgruntled underlings, a dirty dozen he'd knocked from their pedestals and made accountable for their actions. But they had continued to haunt him, festering at the core of his department, seething with bitterness, dogging him from the shadows, contaminating the very soul and spirit of his operation. Worse yet, they'd finally won over the city manager. After three years of scheming and disloyalty, he insisted, they'd finally won over his boss. The city manager was on their side now.

Miami Beach Police Chief Phillip Huber was squeezed into his leather-padded swivel chair in his office at the Miami Beach Police Department on Washington Avenue, his beefy arms wedged tightly between his body and the inside of the chair's arms. He shifted little and spoke sternly. His chubby fingers, usually given to pounding emphasis on the desk top, were clasped tightly in his lap. For weeks now, he said, he had been splayed across the media's hibachi to grill over the flames of public scrutiny and humiliation. And of course he hadn't done anything to deserve it -- except do his job.

In fact, he'd done exactly what he'd been told to do when, three and a half years ago, he had uprooted his family from Maryland and left behind nearly 23 years of faithful service with the Baltimore County Police Department to come to Miami Beach.

How many times had he said it to reporters in the days since this hell began? How many times did he have to repeat it before everyone understood? He was brought here to manage a department that was stuck in the 1950s. It was rough. It was replete with cliques. His charge was to break up those cliques and take the department into the 21st Century. He required people to actually work for a living. No more long breakfasts; no more long lunches. And some of them don't like it.

But the words were beginning to lose their meaning. Even Huber didn't seemed convinced by them. They no longer seemed capable of saving him from his own demise.

His mood had turned morbid. Three floors down, in the department's glass-enclosed lobby, were several wall plaques commemorating officers killed in the line of duty. "And I'm next," the chief continued, a tentative smirk creeping across his face. "My name will soon be up there, too, won't it?" There was no doubt in Huber's mind that the city manager had already reached his decision. Three weeks into this travesty and the manager was simply going through the motions. But, Huber promised, somebody was going to pay for all this. There would be litigation, and lots of it. "I'm not going to have someone destroy my career, defame my family, destroy my reputation, and expect me to go, 'Okay!'" he declared.

City Manager Roger Carlton was asking him for responses to a series of allegations involving financial improprieties, mismanagement, and ethnic insensitivity. "Total bullshit," Huber called them. He assured anyone who would listen that he had done nothing wrong. But for now all he could do was wait. And wait. Rumors had circulated that the ax would fall that day. But it was nearly 5:00 p.m. on Friday, July 2, and there had been no word. Apparently he would be police chief for at least another weekend, another long weekend of little sleep. Uncertainty. Embarrassment. And next week, probably, his boss would hand him an empty cardboard box and tell him to get packing.

Huber pushed himself out of the chair and began pacing around his desk, between the sofa and the coffee table, back around his desk, beneath the rows and rows of framed commendations and awards and certificates that covered the office walls. "And the sad thing about all this," he said, "is that it's being fed by some of the same spoiled brats that we kicked out of their cush jobs way back when. I guess the city has to decide what it really wants. Do they want a police department that's responsible and accountable? Or do they want what it once was: a country club where everybody was happy because they got to do what they wanted to do?"

Huber glanced out his fourth-floor window toward the ocean glittering beyond the Art Deco buildings of Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive. The citizenry below strolled, flirted, Rollerbladed in the reflected light of the late-afternoon sun, a tableau of gaiety that mocked his present tribulations. "If this group is allowed to run me off -- the second police chief in three years," he warned, "the city will never ever get this police department back."

For three weeks the whole town had spun in the vortex of this administrative struggle, some people and institutions more violently than others. It had begun on June 10 when Huber met with Carlton to discuss Huber's tenure as police chief and, according to a city spokesman, "a cumulative piling on of concerns that have made it a time for the chief to reflect on his career."

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