The Late Shift

Miami's mean streets are being patrolled by a new breed of cop -- smart, young, tough, hip to the neighborhood. And she's ambitious, too.

When Harris gets his name and radios it in to the station, she's told to contact a Metro-Dade detective. As it happens, the suspect is a snitch of sorts. He's a witness to a murder and is supposed to report to a Metro-Dade detective to provide information. Harris sighs and lets him loose. "I'm going to call that detective and tell him he ought to teach that guy how to respect a police officer," she grumbles. "That's not right, the way he talked to me," she adds, referring to the comment about being a "hired gun for the crackers."

As Ricardo John leaves in response to a call, another police vehicle pulls up and two more black female officers get out. For the next half-hour the four women chitchat and laugh together. When Harris finally returns to her car, she's still steaming about her suspect's insulting remark. "Did you see the way he talked to me?" she says. "He didn't talk to the other officer that way. He just wants to talk to me like that. He thinks he can disrespect me. I hate that. I'm going to call that detective and tell him to talk some sense into that guy. It's not right. He's got to teach him how to behave."

Like Harris, many Model City patrol officers are young, relatively new to the force, and aggressive, says Sgt. Darlene Cordero. In part that's the result of the police department having lost many of its senior staff members last year when the city encouraged veteran employees to retire early as a cost-cutting measure. More rookies were hired at lower salaries, and more young officers were promoted. (Chief Warshaw says that 100 of 148 sergeants were promoted to that rank in one twelve-month period.)

Additionally, the bidding system introduced six months ago allows senior officers to choose the beats they want to work. The Model City neighborhood is among the least popular -- except for young officers like Harris, who are looking for action and experience. That, says Sergeant Cordero, can sometimes lead to problems. "You've kind of got to slow them down," she explains. "Some of them are kind of cocky. They just need structure."

Not long after Harris arrived in Model City, her superiors imposed some of that structure -- they separated her from her friend and patrol partner Karen Cooper. Recalls Harris: "They said, 'You two are always getting in trouble when you're together.' Seems like every time we were together, we ended up on a chase." Today Harris rides three nights a week with Ofcr. Michael Braddy, whose eight years on the force make him something of an old pro in terms of experience.

Braddy, who is black, grew up in Model City and knows many people by name or appearance. "I've sent some of my school buddies to jail," he acknowledges. Awkward as that might seem, Braddy nonetheless maintains excellent relations among the residents in his patrol area, a rapport that frequently prompts witnesses to reveal to him potentially incriminating and often dangerous information. "I've been to a lot of calls," he recounts, "where people say, 'Let me tell you something in private.'"

From Braddy's perspective, the crime in Model City can be explained to a significant degree in economic terms. Some 44 percent of the neighborhood's 25,000 people live in poverty; the city's overall rate is about 32 percent. The unemployment rate is 16 percent; the city's is 7.7 percent. While Braddy does not believe that these demoralizing statistics in any way justify criminal behavior, he does argue that "some of these people on the streets just want jobs."

Off-duty, Braddy has become a friend to Harris, her boyfriend, and her three children. On patrol he is a mentor and, in some ways, a protector. For example, after Harris complained to him about the suspected drug dealer's insulting remark, Braddy drove to NW Sixteenth Avenue and 47th Street on his own and instructed the young man in the proper way to address a police officer.

Sgt. Darlene Cordero worked two years on patrol and three years in administration -- in the property room and for the chief's office -- before taking the sergeant's exam three years ago. Her first assignment as a ranking officer: supervising the C-shift patrol unit in Model City. She manages up to eleven officers per night as well as patrolling the streets on her own. At age 33 Cordero, like many other sergeants, is relatively young and inexperienced for the position she holds. Her ambitions, though, are a match for anyone else's on the force: She wants to be Miami's first black female police chief, and she is plotting her career with that lofty goal in mind -- investigative work next, then the lieutenant's test as soon as she's eligible, and on from there. She's something of a role model for young black officers like Harris, who plans to take the sergeant's exam as soon as rules allow.

Sergeant Cordero has radioed for assistance in dealing with two suspicious men in front of a convenience store. When the dispatcher calls out the address of Partners Grocery Store on NW Thirteenth Avenue and 62nd Street, Harris leaps into action -- siren on, gas pedal to the floor.

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