By Michael E. Miller
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Declares another officer: "Even the supervisors are afraid to discipline the chief's sons."
Rabin says the accusations against the Bolanos family come from jealous cops with a vendetta. And in fact, one of the sons was disciplined for ignoring a direct order. Police spokesman Frank Gonzalez says there is nothing wrong with the Bolanos' arrangement at the Hialeah headquarters. "Police work often runs in a family," he says. "It's not unusual for family members to work in the same department."
Rolando Bolanos, Sr., a 47-year-old Havana native raised in New Jersey, has been in law enforcement for three decades. After attending Union College in New Jersey, he joined the U.S. Army in 1970 and served as a military police officer, according to an interview he gave New Times several months ago. After his 1973 discharge, he became a cop in Jersey City, New Jersey. In the mid-Seventies he came to South Florida on a murder investigation and fell in love with the subtropics. In 1977 he quit his New Jersey job and joined the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). He spent the next decade at FDLE and eventually rose to the status of special agent in charge of South Florida. He even earned a master's degree in public administration from FIU.
In 1987 Raul Martinez hired Bolanos as police chief. The two made a formidable team. Martinez is a savvy politician who was re-elected after being convicted on corruption charges in 1990. (He gained a new trial on appeal, which ended in two hung juries. The Hialeah City Council recently voted to reimburse Martinez $1.2 million dollars in back pay for his suspension.) Like his boss, Bolanos is known as a strong disciplinarian who does not take challenges to his authority lightly.
That led to problems with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), which represents most of the city's 300 officers. In 1992, after the PBA won lucrative retirement benefits, Bolanos angered the force by tightening the purse strings, claiming the benefits package left no money to buy modern office equipment. In 1995 he tried to limit pay raises.
When John Rivera took over as PBA president that year, he tangled with Bolanos. The pair's differences soon degenerated into a personal feud.
The contract impasse dragged on for three years. During that time Rivera's PBA waged an aggressive campaign that included plastering posters and billboards all over Hialeah calling for Bolanos's removal.
While the roots of the turmoil are in a contract dispute, its effects have branched into day-to-day issues. In the past few years, officers have complained of Bolanos's dictatorial management style and his penchant for squelching opposition.
Publicly Martinez and Bolanos argue they want to work with the force. Privately the chief launched an internal campaign to discredit vocal union members, say six current and former Hialeah officers. The chief prohibited some cops from wearing beepers and required all of them to turn in radios at the end of their shifts. Then he ordered electronic tracking devices installed on patrol cars and fired three policemen for napping on the job. Bolanos said he was cracking down on crooked cops. Rivera said the chief was union-busting.
"Basically any officer associated with the PBA gets targeted," says one officer. "Internal Affairs will follow you from call to call until you stop to get a cup of coffee. Then they write you up for an unauthorized stop."
The chief argues that he has not singled out union members in his effort to improve performance.
Predictably the PBA endorsed Martinez's political rival Herman Echevarria in the 1997 mayoral campaign. Union members took to the streets with anti-Martinez T-shirts and bullhorns, chanting "Raul, cobarde" (Raul, coward). Police brass drew criticism from some on the force for using internal affairs officers to videotape the campaigning.
Despite the opposition, Martinez won re-election easily.
Also in 1997 seven white Hialeah cops, all veterans with fifteen to twenty years of experience, sued the city in federal court, alleging they were not promoted because of racism and politics. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed with the suit claims "there is a distinct pattern of discrimination against non-Hispanic officers who are not politically allied with the mayor." The case is scheduled to go to trial in June, according to the officers' lawyer, Michael Feiler.
If the senior Bolanos thought his sons would be unaffected by the union controversy, he was mistaken. After the brothers were hired in October 1997, they never escaped the suspicion among colleagues that they received special treatment.
Rolando Bolanos, Jr., is an ex-Marine married to a fellow Hialeah police officer, Mayelin Bolanos. Daniel Bolanos, single and still living at home, served on the Hialeah Gardens force in 1996 before becoming a Hialeah cop. "When I worked with him, he wasn't out of control," recalls a Hialeah Gardens officer, who won't give his name. "Danny was quiet here, maybe because he didn't have the backing. He had a couple of car accidents, but nothing out of the ordinary."
Hialeah had openings for the Bolanos brothers because of a series of departures that decimated the Hialeah force. As tension mounted between the union and the city, at least 50 officers left to retire or join other local forces. Some of those who departed took significant pay cuts.