Miami Beach Police Department Now Requires College Degrees for All New Cops

It hasn't been the easiest year for the Miami Beach Police Department and its new chief, Dan Oates. Within a few weeks early this year, Oates had to confront video of an MBPD cop punching a handcuffed woman in the face and then a national scandal that erupted when several Beach officers were caught sending hundreds of racist and sexist emails via their work accounts.     

So perhaps it's no surprise that Oates is now turning his attention to raising standards for the types of cops brought to work in South Beach. For the first time in a decade, MBPD is set to require a four-year college degree for all new cops. The department is also raising the minimum hiring age from 19 to 21 years old.

"[This gives MBPD] the potential to employ individuals who are more mature as a result of their age, have more life experience, and have been exposed to a diversity of thought and perspective that comes with a typical four-year college experience," City Manager Jimmy Morales writes in a letter to commissioners filed yesterday. "These individuals will also have demonstrated a high level of commitment to their personal learning and development through academic achievement."

For years, MBPB actually had required a college degree for officers, but that requirement was dropped around 2005 as a money-saving move.

As Morales explains in his letter, MBPD switched to a model aimed at hiring cops who'd already been recruited and trained by other departments. That saved the city money because new cops wouldn't have to go through academy training, which runs up to $26,000 per recruit.

The downside, of course, is a lower standard for cops. There's no way to draw a direct line from that policy to MBPD's more embarrassing scandals of the past decade — from the joy-riding cop who injured beachgoers while wooing bachelorettes, to the pot-growing officer who shot and killed two men on the job.

But Oates says the new policy could help keep better cops on the beat in the Beach. Florida statistics show that college-educated cops lose their licenses for disciplinary problems at a significantly lower rate than officers with just a GED or high-school diplomas, Morales says.  

Hiring and training officers also gives Oates the chance to mold his own culture in the department, the city manager argues. 

"[It's] an opportunity to develop, shape and grow inexperienced officers in the desired MBPD mold," Morales writes. "MBPD will be more able to limit the trainees' exposure to attitudes or behaviors not conducive to good policing."

The city commission will consider the move at its meeting this afternoon; the change has already been approved by Oates, Morales, and the personnel board. Morales says the move won't cost the department more because probationary recruits won't be paid while attending academy

MBPD would be alone among Miami-Dade County's major forces with the new requirements. The City of Miami PD and the Miami-Dade Police Department require only a high-school diploma, according to their hiring standards online.   
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink