Miami Beach Police GPS Trackers on Hold Over Safety Concerns

It's a logic problem from hell. If GPS trackers are put on cop cars to make sure officers don't go where they don't belong while on duty, but the technology is never actually turned on, does it really exist?

It does if taxpayers have already spent more than a half-million bucks on the program.

That's exactly what's happened in Miami Beach, where more than 350 city vehicles — including cop cars and fire trucks — have been outfitted with automated vehicle locators (AVLs) at a cost of more than $500,000. But in police cruisers, they haven't been turned on yet because cops worry the devices could put them in danger.

The idea for the AVLs began four years ago, when residents complained about a city car "parked under a tree all day long," says Miami Beach Commissioner Ed Tobin. Tobin hoped GPS data would help better allocate resources. When the commission approved the idea in December 2010, there wasn't much debate.

But as the city began installing the devices, MBPD suffered a rash of scandals. On July 2, 2011, Officer Derick Kuilan popped by the Clevelander and then drunkenly ran his department-issued ATV over two beachgoers. Kuilan wasn't the only AWOL cop: His partner was with him at the bar, and their supervisor had headed home early for an off-duty gig.

The incident gave urgency to keeping better track of cops. Days before the accident, city commissioners had approved $268,220 to install the AVLs. Later they green-lighted an additional $193,000. (It's not clear how much the police trackers alone cost; a city spokeswoman didn't respond to questions from Riptide.)

Yet for police, the program has effectively been shelved because cops fear the devices could expose the home addresses of officers with take-home vehicles.

"Anybody could go in and ask for the records," says Sgt. Alex Bello, head of Miami Beach's Fraternal Order of Police. "You could obviously have a subject you charged with a crime finding out where you live and taking action or doing something crazy."

Tobin says he isn't sure why a compromise — like letting cops turn off the AVLs when they are off the clock — hasn't yet been reached. "If I'm trusting them to make decisions that could take someone's liberties away and put somebody in prison for life, I should be able to trust them to do the right thing with a city car."