Travail to the Chief

Raul Martinez is a product of Miami's dysfunctional police department, so how can he be expected to transform it?

But it didn't end there. In December the State Attorney's Office quietly closed an investigation into a complaint by several cops that the head of Miami's internal-affairs unit, Maj. Frank Christmas, had obstructed justice in a murder investigation, and had done so with Chief Martinez's approval. Prosecutors wanted to know why the officers were transferred after they complained, and why the murder suspect remained at large.

Had the CALEA assessors stayed in town long enough to witness all this, they might have been excused for thinking they'd stumbled into a parallel universe: In Miami they arrest the cops and let the murderers go free.

(According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 106 Miami police officers have had their state certification yanked since 1980 for offenses ranging from misconduct to criminal convictions.)

City Manager Carlos Gimenez acknowledges the department's problems, but argues that the chief inherited them
Steve Satterwhite
City Manager Carlos Gimenez acknowledges the department's problems, but argues that the chief inherited them
In 1977 Raul Martinez made headlines for his role in a prostitution sting
In 1977 Raul Martinez made headlines for his role in a prostitution sting

Re-establishing the police department's credibility through fundamental reforms is an urgent priority for Miami's city administration. Which raises a question: Is Raul Martinez, who has served as chief the past two years, the right person to accomplish that difficult task? A 26-year veteran of the force, he is, after all, a product of the very system he's being asked to overhaul. City Manager Gimenez is guardedly optimistic. "I have no plans right now to replace him," he hedges. "I think there are problems all over the place in that department. That's no secret. But a lot of those problems were inherited [by Martinez]."

That optimism, however cautious, is not shared by all. "Forget the personality of Raul Martinez for a moment," says Miami City Commissioner Johnny Winton. "In general in any organization, if you need significant reform -- and most people, including me, agree reform is needed in the Miami Police Department -- it is virtually impossible to get that done by anybody within the system. They can't see it. They have too much vested in the existing system."

A police chief at another department in Miami-Dade County echoes Winton's analysis. "You can't micromanage your way out of this," he says, referring to Martinez's well-known preoccupation with details. "To make change like this from the inside is not easy. You're asking the impossible."

Skepticism exists even within Martinez's own department. "I think he has good intentions, but I don't think he can make the changes necessary," says one senior Miami officer who has been on the force many years and who asked not to be identified. "He's not a decision-maker, not a leader. He hasn't been a radical force for change here."

Attorneys who have sued the department on behalf of clients claiming they were victims of police misconduct often gain a unique perspective from their extensive research preparing for trial. (Since 1990 the City of Miami has spent more than $18 million to settle claims against the police department.) "There is just a lack of leadership," alleges Michael Feiler, who recently won a settlement of nearly one million dollars. "And even though they've admitted there's a problem, no one has stepped forward with a plan."

Barbara Heyer, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer whose client was awarded millions in damages stemming from a 1996 shooting death, also criticizes police leadership. "There are no checks and balances in that department," she says. "This crisis is the result of supervisors who did not monitor the line officers." As for Chief Martinez specifically, Heyer is blunt: "He is part of the problem."

Born in Havana in 1950, Martinez escaped to the U.S. at age twelve as part of the children's airlift known as Operation Pedro Pan. After graduating from Miami Senior High School in 1968 he worked a stockroom, clerked a grocery store, and installed Southern Bell telephones. In 1974 he signed up as a police officer. He was 24 years old, had been married one year, and wore a bushy mane of hair and thick mustache, à la Chico and the Man.

Miami police were widely respected at that time, according to officers in and outside the department. And the city wasn't averse to hiring chiefs from elsewhere. But that ended when Chief Bernard Garmire, who had come from Arizona in 1969, helped initiate an investigation into Mayor David Kennedy, who was later indicted for bribery. Kennedy's successor, Maurice Ferré, helped push Garmire out in 1974. Since then every police chief has been appointed from within the department, a practice that fosters inappropriate meddling by city hall, according to one former high-ranking Miami officer.

At the time, though, Martinez had more pressing concerns than the department's loss of autonomy. He was a rookie hitting the streets at a time when drugs began flowing through Miami like floodwater. In 1976 a pot dealer shot at and narrowly missed Martinez. That same year he helped seize 5000 pounds of marijuana and four pounds of cocaine. He won accolades for his undercover work setting up large cocaine, marijuana, and methaqualone buys. By 1978 he had distinguished himself sufficiently to be named officer of the year by the City of Miami and the Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police.

In 1980, the year Martinez earned his sergeant's stripes, two events conspired to change the police department forever. Fidel Castro unleashed the Mariel boatlift, which inundated Miami with roughly 125,000 refugees in a matter of weeks. That was also the year a Tampa jury acquitted four white Miami police officers in the beating death of Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance salesman. In the widespread rioting that followed, eighteen people died. Miami simply was not equipped to handle this tsunami of human turmoil.

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