Cop Out

Outgoing school police chief Vivian Monroe has misused and abused her power for years. So why will she remain on the force?

What has Vivian Monroe done to deserve her January 12, 2000, removal as chief of the Miami-Dade County School District police department?

Plenty. Since becoming chief in January 1997, she has repeatedly interfered with investigations of school district employees with whom she is personally acquainted. She has even gone so far as to release district employees who, according to Monroe's own police officers, should have been arrested.

Such actions have engendered a growing tide of resentment against Monroe among her subordinates. One reliable gauge for the cops' dissatisfaction with Monroe has been the rise of a new union within the rank and file. Several officers broke away from the Teamsters, which currently represents school police, and formed a chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in October 1999. The new union has distinguished itself from the old by vocally and enthusiastically bashing the chief for her numerous screw-ups.

Photos by Steve Satterwhite
Henry Fraind describes Vivian Monroe's performance in the top job as "adequate"
Henry Fraind describes Vivian Monroe's performance in the top job as "adequate"

Monroe must have known the political heat was on. Her response this past November: She personally ordered another high-ranking school district employee to be unarrested -- after her own officers had arrested him for battery and as he sat in a police car, handcuffed, at the Miami-Dade County Jail awaiting booking. The episode provoked outrage among officers at all levels of the department.

Thing is, she didn't get fired. Instead, ostensibly at Monroe's request, the district created a new job for her: Investigative Unit Commander. Even after she gets a new boss, she will continue working for the department, supervising six people rather than the 141 officers she has now, for the same salary: $89,463 of public money. In conjunction with her lateral move, the district pumped up the potential salary of the next chief's position to $113,100 and announced the formation of a committee to search for Monroe's successor. The school board unanimously approved this restructuring at its January meeting, but board members Michael Krop and Manty Morse both questioned why she was going to keep the same salary for supervising far fewer people. Top administrators will submit a candidate for the new job at the March 15 school board meeting; until then Monroe remains acting chief.

Many fired executives receive "golden parachutes" upon their termination. Vivian Monroe has received a golden couch.

Top administrators within the school district seem to have no problem justifying Monroe's cushy job. Henry Fraind, the deputy superintendent of schools, uses the word "adequate" to describe Monroe's performance as chief, but is supportive of her voluntary move to a new role.

Another high-ranking school district official, who asked not to be identified, offers a different assessment: "She was such a bad chief, anything that came the administration's way as a means to get rid of her was acceptable."

As for the rank and file, representatives of the FOP have dubbed Monroe's new gig "the cover-up unit" -- a platform from which she can engage in the same sort of meddling they believe should have gotten her fired.

The Division of School Police at the Miami-Dade County Public Schools has been plagued with problems throughout its existence. Although many good officers work within the department, its low starting salary and the long absence of psychological screening tests (first instituted in 1997) have attracted a slew of cops who might not have cut it at other departments.

The bureaucracy in the school district can also tie the hands of school cops, and prevent them from doing their jobs like other police officers would. Especially when school police have to investigate school board employees. In such cases the district's Office of Professional Standards (OPS) has the authority to decide whether any inquiry is handled as a criminal investigation or as an administrative matter.

Also, unlike in most municipalities, where the police chief is accountable directly to the top administrator (a city manager or mayor), the top school cop has several layers of paper-pushers separating her from Superintendent Roger Cuevas. The school district has treated its police department like a bureaucratic hot potato. Since Vivian Monroe became police chief three years ago, she has reported to four different administrators.

After Daniel Tosado, Monroe's boss was deputy superintendent Carol Cortes. In October 1998 Cuevas transferred direct control of the police department from Cortes to the district's number-two administrator, Henry Fraind. This move sent a collective groan through both the district as a whole and the police department in particular. Fraind's obstructionist and dictatorial tendencies have earned him the enmity of his subordinates, many school board members, and local journalists. Both Fraind and Monroe are widely reputed to be favorites of school board member Solomon Stinson, the single most powerful force on the board.

In July 1999 Cuevas took the police department away from Fraind (which, Fraind says, was fine with him). From that time until the present, the police chief has reported to Nelson Perez, the associate superintendent for adult and vocational training, alternative education, and drop-out-prevention programs.

In some cases, however, the most problematic bureaucrat has been Vivian Monroe herself. Though she is a cop, she's shown ample evidence of a bureaucratic mentality when it comes to protecting upper-level district employees, both within the police department and elsewhere. She joined the department in 1974 and worked her way up. In 1980 she began as a personnel investigator and was promoted to ever-higher supervisory posts. When she was made chief in January 1997, after the retirement of long-time chief Eugene "Red" McAllister, she became the first black, and the first woman, to hold the office. (Monroe did not respond to numerous calls requesting an interview for this story.)

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