John Timoney, America’s Worst Cop

He has spent 138 days on the road in just a few years on the job. Who’s minding the Miami Police Department?

Rather than attending late-night parties or traveling around the country, fighting crime likely should have been the chief's focus. The number of violent deaths in the city increased from 56 in 2005 to a jaw-dropping 79 in 2006. Timoney acknowledged some rise in killings but claimed overall crime was down. He told a USA Today reporter that downtown was "safe." But no one really knows how safe. The city's police union claims Timoney "cooked the books" on crime. Some officers contend reports were changed or misclassified — a burglary into an information report or a robbery downgraded to a theft, for instance. Timoney said it would take hundreds of people "conspiring" to change the stats, yet he did call for a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the allegations.

And Fraternal Order of Police President Armando Aguilar also takes issue with Timoney's rambling. "He's an absentee landlord," Aguilar says. "Miami should be his number one priority. He sells himself as an expert on everything."

City Manager Hernandez admits he has heard complaints about the chief's absences — especially because Timoney relies on his number two man, Frank Fernandez, to run the department in his absence. "The officers don't feel comfortable with the deputy chief," the city manager says.

Drinking buddies: Timoney and Mayor Diaz
AP Wide World
Drinking buddies: Timoney and Mayor Diaz

Still, Timoney continues to hammer his message of homeland security. At the end of 2006, he announced a program dubbed "Miami Shield," which, in the agency's own words, "focus its efforts towards making soft targets within the community less vulnerable to terrorist actions." Some civil liberties groups, such as the ACLU, were wary of the plan because of its vagueness and potential for abuse.

Amount spent in 2006: $7138

Days away from the city in 2006: 30

City records show only two Timoney trips in 2007: one in January to the Florida Police Chiefs Winter Conference in St. Augustine, and another in April to the Police Executive Research Forum conference in Chicago. (Later in the year, Timoney would be named president of the board of directors of this organization.)

One journey wasn't on the books. Timoney visited Iraq for 10 days in July as part of a commission led by former General James Jones to study police security there. And the chief jetted to Washington earlier this month to unveil the commission's report and to speak to the National Press Club about the findings. It's unclear how he classified this time away from the city; records show he has taken only eight hours of vacation this year.

The chief's Iraq trip — and his subsequent Washington speech — were announced in the local media September 7 — just two weeks after the Lexus scandal was revealed by CBS 4 and days after the no-confidence vote. The Iraq trip was "ridiculous," says union President Aguilar. In an online law enforcement forum called, people claiming to be Miami Police officers called Timoney "T$," for "T-Money," and questioned why he needed to go to Iraq.

"The state of policing in Miami is truly in a sad state of affairs," wrote a poster who called himself "John Wayne." "To find out that while crime in the City of Miami is rampant, people are getting carjacked, kidnapped, robbed, and burglarized, the chief of police is in Iraq conducting an assessment of the conditions there. The citizens of Miami are not paying the chief to go to Iraq. What they want to hear is that the police department is operating the way it should, and that police officers respect their leader's credibility."

Some, like activist Max Rameau, aren't that worked up about the recent scandals but are furious about the travel and soon-to-be-activated downtown security cameras. "I think there's plenty of reason for Timoney to be fired, but not because of the Lexus," Rameau says. "His priority is not necessarily Miami. His priority is being some kind of national police chief."

Rameau theorizes that people in Miami are so used to having incompetent chiefs — several, such as Donald Warshaw and Raul Martinez, were embroiled in scandal — that Timoney was at first considered a success. "The fact that Timoney is efficient and effective, that's more harmful to us," Rameau says. "It means that he's able to screw us more effectively and efficiently."

Asked whether he thinks the chief's travel has been excessive, Hernandez pauses. "I don't think it's excessive, but it's probably above the norm," he says. But he adds that city leaders are going to crack down on travel in the coming year. The city must cut some $30 million from its budget because of property tax reform. Moreover the department's travel budget reveals an ugly trend. It spent $66,000 in 2004-2005, almost doubled that the next year, and has requested 33 percent more than that for 2007-2008.

On September 6, Hernandez pledged to launch an independent study of Timoney and his relationship with the officers. He's also waiting to discipline the chief for his use of the free Lexus (which he has since bought and apologized for) until the state and county ethics commissions weigh in on the matter. Timoney met with the ethics commission early this month, a day before he jetted off to Washington to give his Iraq assessment. The FDLE is also looking into the SUV allegations and the crime statistics claim.

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