Lonely at the Top
In 1969 a young cadet in the Baltimore County Police Department received the kind of progress reports that might have led a less determined man to start thinking about another career. In one evaluation, the trainee was criticized for failing "to support the other squad leaders" and to maintain morale. "The ratee has expressed a keen desire to become a Baltimore County Police Officer," wrote his instructor, "but it is the opinion of the rater that this inward desire of the recruit is not exemplified in his actions."
In an evaluation the following month, the cadet was criticized for his "extremely poor posture" and unruly hair. He was lambasted for his indifference and for doing "the minimum that is required." And he was accused of expressing himself "rather impetuously." As for the cadet's "general value" to the police department, a supervisor wrote: "Questionable."
The cadet, 21-year-old Phillip Huber, quickly proved his skeptical instructor wrong, and rose rapidly through the ranks of the police department, becoming the youngest person to attain the ranks of lieutenant, captain, major, and colonel (deputy chief). In May 1990, Huber was hired as chief of the Miami Beach Police Department -- a test of his experience and training if there ever was one. The department he inherited was beset by troubles -- from drug use among officers to charges of police brutality and discrimination to serious internal disorganization.
Huber was given a mandate to straighten out the place, and he did it with a zeal befitting his aggressive personality. He quickly instituted several new crime-fighting programs, restructured the chain of command, and made important top-level personnel changes. In the process of revamping the department, though, Huber has alienated several senior officers, some of whom, he believes, are now conspiring to run him out of town.
"You don't have any idea how complicated a personality he is," says one disgruntled commander. "He's got more energy than anyone I've ever met, he's got an excellent memory, he knows a thousand one-liners, he's well read, he knows a lot of people, he travels around the country. But he's not fit to clean
your bathroom. He's a prejudiced, abusive, manipulative, lying person. He shouldn't be a security guard, much less the chief of a major city that has its hands full of problems."
Huber's redesign has generated several federal discrimination complaints, and has also led members of the department to leak dozens of allegations to the media and to city and state officials charging the chief with financial impropriety and abuse of his position. An exasperated acting City Manager Carla Talarico says the infighting has gone too far. "It has gotten out of hand," she says. "We must get back to law enforcement. It's a vendetta between the chief and the command staff, and it's not doing the city or the citizens any good."
By the end of 1989, the Miami Beach Police Department was reeling from a series of high-profile and damaging investigations that exposed the organization's raw underbelly. An inquiry into the 1988 killing of Officer Scott Rakow had revealed after-hours socializing between police officers and drug dealers. A federal judge had upheld a female police officer's claims that male colleagues had sexually harassed her by moaning suggestively over police radios and placing a used condom in her mailbox. In April 1989, a prisoner died while hog-tied next to the exhaust pipe of a running police car, and in November 1989, a cabbie beaten during a routine traffic stop sued the department and won a $520,000 judgment.
The department was also in such internal disorder that a study conducted by an international police agency found overall operations to be "seriously flawed," a detective bureau with an "unacceptable" performance level, and a narcotics unit suffering "a general malaise.... The organization was, in many ways, fluid," the study says. "The department did not even have an organizational chart!" To make matters worse, Police Chief Kenneth Glassman was at war with the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police. "We got to where we didn't really listen to each other, we lost faith with one another," explains retired Lt. Mike Grant, a former FOP president. "Glassman was underhanded in his dealings with us."
Burdened by the department's worsening reputation and internal strife, Glassman announced his resignation in November 1989. "It was a department that was sloppily run, was full of spoiled brats, and was in a state of disarray," says Talarico, who at the time was an assistant city manager. "Their law enforcement capabilities were excellent, but their administrative capabilities were just terrible. They were a bunch of buffoons. Glassman used to turn the phones off in the chief's office at five o'clock and they
all used to go down to the gym to work out. The only way you could reach him was to page him there. That's how bad it had become."
The city needed a new police chief who carried a big broom, and a search committee began looking for candidates both inside and outside Miami Beach. "I was seeking someone who had a level-headed approach to community policing and was a team player," says former City Manager Rob Parkins. "Someone who had a sense of morale."
Parkins and his committee settled on Huber, Baltimore County's 41-year-old, ambitious, thick-necked colonel. According to Parkins, the search committee had narrowed its choices to Assistant Chief Lou Guasto and Huber, but felt Guasto might "carry some baggage" from the previous administration. "By having a fresh perspective," Parkins recalls, "I felt Huber would bring some positive qualities to the department." The search committee was primarily impressed with Huber's interdepartmental experience in Baltimore, his rapid rise through the ranks, and his excellent references.
Huber, the first outsider hired to run the Miami Beach Police Department since 1963, signed a five-year contract and set out to redesign the organization. The chief needed to tighten up administration, settle chronic dissention between management and labor, improve the department's crime-fighting record, and win respectability in the public eye. "The department wasn't afraid to work, but I saw an agency that lacked guidance and direction, it lacked planning, it lacked use of data, it lacked modern police techniques," says Huber, now 43, during an interview in his top-floor office at police headquarters on Washington Avenue. "It had a lot of managerial deficiencies. Everything was pretty much done by the seat of their pants."
The new chief began to install a system of accountability by covering the department in a blizzard of paperwork. "We needed to embark on a program of writing down what we do, when we do it, and how we do it," he recalls. The task of checking out a car from the police garage, for instance, was once a matter of simply asking for the keys and dropping it off when you were done. Today there are strict rules governing who can check out cars and requiring close inspection of their condition afterward. The end result, officers say, is that the cars are in better shape and are always where they should be.
Huber also placated a fractious union, still bitter over their treatment under former Chief Glassman. "I felt like I'd parachuted into the World War I trenches, between the Germans and the Allies," Huber says. "It's a classic case where from the union's perspective the enemy is management, and from the management's position, the union is the enemy." Huber made the position of FOP president a full-time job administratively detached from normal duty, and instituted four-day work weeks for all rank-and-file officers, both at union request. He also scheduled weekly labor-management meetings and has supported the union's request for a two-and-a-half-percent pay raise.
In the realm of public safety, Huber created a crime-analysis program with weekly meetings to evaluate the dynamics of crime on Miami Beach and develop methods to combat it. He also designed a crime-prevention plan emphasizing community education and community-based programs such as neighborhood ministations. Says FOP president Lynda Veski: "Before, under Glassman, if you had a crime problem, you didn't even know about it."
Not all of Huber's crime-fighting initiatives, however, have endeared him to the citizens he was hired to protect. His sporadic use of roadblocks to entrap drunk drivers has annoyed many residents and angered business owners who feel the strategy scares visitors away from the Beach. As part of his staunch anti-drug program, Huber began to send undercover officers into nightclubs and bars regularly, an unpopular strategy among club owners who fear their businesses will be closed. And Huber's plan to mail notification letters to employers of people arrested on drug charges has met stiff opposition from civil-rights advocates.
Principal among Huber's management tasks was the need to rearrange the chain of command and fill a gap at the middle-management level left by eight promotions Glassman made just days before he resigned. With "a ton of talent at the rank of sergeant and a ton of talent at the rank of patrolman," Huber says, he has been able to promote about 30 people and encourage upward mobility through the ranks. (The department now has 316 sworn officers, 161 civilians, and a $28,555,833 annual budget.)
The most controversial and profound changes have come in the command staff, upper-level officers with the rank of captain and above. "After sixteen months in the job," Huber says with his customary self-confidence, "I'd decided who were the contenders and who were the pretenders and who was going to take the department into the future and who had public safety at heart."
The mass promotion in February 1991 of nineteen people in the rank and file and one captain to major set the tone for Huber's grand redesign of the command staff. Among the changes that ensued from July to September, Huber made two former Baltimore colleagues commanders in the administrative wing of his staff. Huber had brought Martin Zaworski and Robert Frame to Miami Beach in late 1990 as part of his "civilianization" effort -- the program to put civilians in department jobs that don't need police officers. (Zaworski and Frame had retired from the Baltimore County Police Department and were no longer police officers.) The union and many members of the command staff had opposed the hiring and promotion of Zaworksi and Frame, saying it smacked of cronyism and seemed to contradict Huber's plan to encourage upward mobility.
The chief defends his move as an administrative necessity because he didn't have anybody in the department with the computer and communications expertise of Zaworski or the affirmative-action experience of Frame. "I had people in place that had no expertise and I had no expertise in the department for those positions," he says firmly. "It may
have smacked of [cronyism], but under the Florida system, I could have replaced the entire command staff with outside people."
The upper-level shakeup also included the promotion of four lieutenants -- Don De Lucca, Nicholas Lluy, Vincent Mulshine, and Patricia Schneider -- to captains, and the promotion of one captain -- Rocco De Leo -- to major. In turn, Huber demoted or transferred four veteran officers who had been among Glassman's lame-duck promotions. Captains Steven Robbins and Casey Conwell were demoted to lieutenant, and Major Alan Solowitz and Captain Richard Barreto were transferred to less coveted positions. In a final related administrative shift, Huber transferred police legal adviser Dennis Ward -- a friend of Barreto, Solowitz, and Glassman -- from the police department to the city attorney's office.
Huber denies he's trying to purge the system of Glassman allies. "I've dealt with the debris of the previous administration for some time," Huber says testily. "What I'm doing is holding everyone accountable. There are no more godfathers in the department."
Huber's forceful reorganization has had the support of the police union, still smarting over the former chief's parting shot. "Glassman's promotions were strictly made by loyalty and not by qualifications," says FOP president Veski. "These were young men who would lock up the department for the next ten years and determine the direction of the department."
However, the managerial shuffling has engendered three complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and bitterness among officers in the upper echelons of the department. The complaints have been filed by Robbins, Barreto, and retired Captain Paul Rantanen, another recipient of one of Glassman's last-minute promotions.
Robbins, a sixteen-year veteran, says he was demoted from captain to lieutenant because he is Jewish. "I began to see a trend with the chief that was disturbing," says Robbins, recalling what motivated him to file the EEOC complaint. "I was with him when he made racial epithets regarding Jews and blacks. Once he yelled at me for scheduling a rabbi at a police ceremony. And once he told me that he was going to institute a new policy that would prohibit my Chai [a Jewish amulet signifying life]."
Barreto charges in his complaint that he was passed over for promotion three times because of his Cuban heritage. After he told the chief he was planning to file the EEOC complaint, Barreto says, Huber removed him as commander of the SWAT team, as head of an anti-crime task force, as head of the police charity fund, and transferred him.
And Rantanen, who retired this summer as the department's most senior captain after a twenty-year career, has filed a reverse-discrimination complaint. He says he was not promoted because he was not a minority, and claims he was forced to retire because the chief was threatening to demote him.
Huber denies the EEOC charges, and Robbins' racism allegations, and says he welcomes an investigation into the complaints. "I can tell you the individual allegations are ludicrous," he says, "but I won't argue out their careers in the paper. Most of this is because of egos, not because of organizational structure."
Despite the resentment among several command staffers and their supporters in the rank and file, City Manager Talarico praises the chief for his makeover of the department. "The police chief came into a situation that was not the best of worlds and he's taken the bull by the horns," she says. "He has made some decisions that have shaken up a department that needed some shaking." But while commending Huber for putting a cattle prod to a lethargic department, Talarico scolds him for lacking managerial finesse in his latest round of personnel switches. "We could've talked about it, but he came to me afterwards and told me about the changes," Talarico recalls. "Does that mean it's retaliation? No, but the perception is not good."
Former City Manager Rob Parkins also questions the radical changes Huber has instituted in the Miami Beach Police department's command staff. "I thought he was going to keep things level during the first year-and-a-half to two years," Parkins says, choosing his words carefully. "But I'm somewhat surprised that he has made some dramatic shifts."
Huber's most virulent critics aren't so diplomatic in their evaluations of his management style. Says one commander: "He's summarily executing people. It's a takeover." Another, commenting on the rapid changes at one detective bureau post, says: "Four bosses in a year-and-a-half? That's like the country having four presidents. These aren't plumbers, these are guys who make delicate decisions and there needs to be a lot
In recent weeks, several disgruntled members of the department have been spreading rumors about Huber's abuse of his position: financial wrongdoings, numerous violations of departmental rules, and an indulgence in luxuries not appropriate for the chief of police. Detractors have contacted local news organizations and sent an anonymous letter to State Attorney Janet Reno alleging Huber's physical and verbal abuse of a man who broke into his house. (The State Attorney's Office conducted an investigation into the allegation, but closed the case after the suspect said "he had no complaints," according to the investigation report.) Many Miami Beach officials and outside observers of the department have heard and witnessed this sniper fire. Like the proliferation of jokes after a large-scale public disaster, everyone seems to have at least one or two good Huber allegations.
"The feeling is that no matter what you say, you'll get fucked, even if it's neutral," says one officer, explaining why some of the chief's critics are frightened to challenge Huber publicly: "These are people who carry guns, will crash into bars, arrest people, get into shoot-outs --
people who are prepared to take a life if they have to. And they're afraid to talk about the chief."
Huber, though, says the disgruntlement is limited to "five percent" of the department, with Barreto and Solowitz in front. "I think they grossly overestimated their support," Huber says sternly, punctuating his words with short jabs of his heavy hands. "I think they have been in charge of the department far too long, and it amazes me that they say their careers have been bullied when they have a reputation for bullying. It's almost an incestuous, Peyton Place-type atmosphere, and their only mission in this is to run me off. Well, I'm not going to be run off. I'm here for the long haul."
If so, Huber's record will have to bear scrutiny from more than just angry department employees. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement recently investigated the training of Huber and commanders Zaworski and Frame to become certified as Florida police officers. (Florida law does not require a police chief to be certified, but even veteran police officers from other states, such as Zaworski and Frame, must be certified in order to make arrests and enforce the law.) Although they weren't required to, all three men had volunteered to undergo legal and firearms training, and a police department attorney taught private classes in the chief's office. However, the FDLE's inquiry revealed that Huber's certification classes "were riddled with violations," according to a report filed by the investigator, FDLE field specialist Larry Boemler.
Among the violations, Boemler found that the chief and his commanders had attended less than a quarter of the total class hours required by Florida law, but had signed attendance sheets claiming they had satisfied the required hours. Furthermore, the attendance sheets were signed only after the course was completed.
Boemler also found that the final exam was administered in the chief's office with access to law books and was monitored by a probationary lieutenant, both acts in violation of certification rules. "If he [the lieutenant] had detected any irregularities, it would be difficult to report them for fear of demotion," Boemler wrote in his report. "As it was, the lieutenant was asked by Commander Frame not to remain in the room while the test was going on.... The lieutenant states he was called back to the room once the exam was over." Frame told Boemler he never ordered the lieutenant out of the room.
Huber quickly blames everyone but himself for the certification snafu. "I am absolutely disgusted with this," he says vehemently. "This is the biggest example of poor staff work and miscommunication that I've ever been involved with in my life." Huber lays most of the blame on his training staff -- particularly Steven Robbins -- for not designing a certification program in compliance with state rules. "I find it absolutely unconscionable that I've been left in this position," Huber bellows, "and that's an example of the performance that I've been talking about -- when you're given a mission to set something up and you set it up back asswards."
However, memos sent from Robbins to Huber concerning the certification classes clearly indicate that all the hours were to be conducted in class, and that attendance was to be documented at each class. "I think he realizes he needs some scapegoats, and I'm convenient at this time," Robbins says. "He demoted me and knows that I'm complaining to the federal government, and he knows as a demoted commander, I'm an easy target. He's in trouble because of his own behavior."
To complement that controversy, Huber has committed minor infractions and politically dubious actions that have cost him some respect both within and outside the department.
Early in Huber's tenure, he attached a trailer hitch to his assigned city vehicle without permission in order to tow a Waverunner down to the Keys, says former City Manager Parkins.
Soon after Huber moved into his three-story house in a well-to-do neighborhood of Miami Beach, he asked Parkins to remove a bus bench from outside his house on Alton Road. Huber says his house was robbed twice within his first few months in Miami Beach, and he believed people riding the bus were to blame. "I saw people at the bus bench looking over my fence," Huber says. "I made a connection between people riding the bus and the fact that conveyances -- bicycles -- were stolen."
Huber asked for, and received, three pay raises in his first five months as chief, says Parkins, who approved the raises. The boosts increased Huber's annual salary from $81,936 to $92,316. "We had agreed on a starting salary, then Huber came to me and said he'd made a mistake," Parkins says. "The raises were within the salary range for a police chief. And at the beginning he performed very well." News of the salary hikes, though, surprised several current city officials who learned about them recently.
In December 1990, Huber wrote a letter to the Miami Herald commending a column that criticized the Miami Police Department's handling of the Wynwood riots. According to former Miami Police Chief Perry Anderson, the letter annoyed other Dade County police chiefs and law enforcement officials. "Huber's approach was somewhat out of character," says Anderson. "Normally, we [Dade County police chiefs] would all try to get together and work out something. It was the first time that any chief had experienced that kind of response from another chief within Dade County. We all depend on each other."
Huber allegedly encouraged his son to enter a cadet-recruitment program intended to attract more minorities to the department. Huber claimed in a letter he wrote to the State Ethics Commission requesting a judgment that he didn't know about his son's application until a month into the process. But Robbins, who oversaw the application process, says Huber specifically asked that the recruitment officers put his son, Christopher, on the short list for prospective applicants before the eighteen-year-old had even written his name on an application.
Some of Huber's uses of his office's petty-cash reserve have annoyed the city's budget officials, such as purchasing Perrier instead of a cheaper bottled water, and buying $52 worth of decorations last Christmas. Huber admits the Christmas lights were a mistake, but argues that he is allowed to buy Perrier, soft drinks, and coffee as refreshments for guests at a meeting. However Peter Liu, the city's budget director and principal penny pincher, says Perrier pushes the limit and is an endangered species in the chief's office. "I don't know what it tastes like, I've never had it, I don't even know how to spell it. But I'm going to put a stop to it." (Liu adds, though, that he hasn't noticed any serious misuse of the chief's petty cash funds. He has also conducted audits of several of the department's other funds, and found no major infractions.)
Huber uses as his authorized take-home car an expensive Volvo confiscated in a drug bust. This has irked some city officials because the city doesn't yet own the title, and furthermore, it gives the impression that the city bought the car for him. "There's a certain naivete there," says one city administrator.
"He's not dealing drugs, he's not running guns, he's not pulling bank robberies, he's not killing people," says one critic in the upper-echelons of the department. "But all these things add up and set a bad example for the department. How would you like to see officers cutting the corners when they arrest you? The rules don't apply to Huber."
Says Parkins, who left Miami Beach in February to become the city manager of Palm Springs, California: "The major concern that I had is that Phil seemed to have the tendency that the rules applied in an absolute way to everyone except himself. He tended to be inclined to bend rules for himself that he might not permit for others."
According to Talarico, a busy year for city government has permitted Huber an unusual amount of latitude without the necessary checks from above. Moreover, Talarico says, Miami Beach lacks an assistant city manager for public safety in charge of the fire and police departments, a common authority in larger cities' governments. "As a result, the fire and police chiefs have a lot more autonomy and power over their departments," Talarico says. "It's great when you have a Braniard Dorris [Miami Beach Fire Chief] but I think to a certain extent Huber takes advantage of it." But Talarico says she doesn't have enough time to pursue every allegation she hears about Huber amid the hurly-burly of the current city elections, a tough budget year, and other time-consuming matters: "There are so many bigger issues that I spend time on them rather than on the day-to-day operations of the city."
One law enforcement official outside the department says he fears Huber's heavy-handed style of management will continue to splinter the department. "The Beach has got a cadre of some pretty good people," the official says, "and I'd hate to see it go the same way Miami went: factionalized, fragmented, politicized, ineffective."
A preventive measure might lie in Huber's final recruit-training evaluation given to him in 1970 at the Baltimore County Police Department. Even though he finished near the bottom of the cadet class, with a grade point average of 2.5, his instructors had hopes for young Huber. "It is the opinion of the undersigned that the ratee does possess excellent potential in becoming a good police officer, but strongly recommends close supervision, although he is capable of handling a full and varied work load," the progress report said. "Should develop his potential with the proper guidance.
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