It's Broken, So Fix It

Corrections department investigators want an investigation -- of their department

Normally this kind of situation would qualify as ironic -- after all, internal affairs investigates things like altered reports. But because this happens to be the corrections department internal-affairs bureau, it's more like a cliché. Scandals there are common.

In May 1998 the Independent Review Panel, a civilian board that examines complaints against county employees, excoriated corrections IA for its "foot dragging" in the case of an inmate beaten bloody by a half-dozen guards in 1994. Despite the testimony of six corrections officers who witnessed the beating, IA took three years to complete its investigation and confirm that excessive force had been used -- long enough for the witnesses to suffer plenty of threats and harassment at work.

Later in 1998, former county Manager Merrett Stierheim released a consultant's report that determined internal-affairs staffers were so undertrained that within the department they were considered a "joke."

Corrections is so dysfunctional that county Commissioner Joe Martinez, who chairs the public safety committee, wants to study the feasibility of placing it under the control of the police department. Aside from efficiency and cost benefits, Martinez thinks it would also improve accountability. "Then internal affairs for the police department would handle all the investigations," he notes.

This is a propitious time for scrutiny. Director Spears is scheduled to retire within the year, which creates an opportunity for Miami-Dade County Manager Steve Shiver to appoint a strong director with a mandate for reform. That, however, will be a challenge. For years the corrections and rehabilitation department has been a bureaucratic ghetto, rife with cronyism, racial and ethnic tensions, and financial mismanagement. For any new director, a trustworthy and respected internal-affairs bureau will be essential to reform.

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