FIU Police Department Unprepared for Violent Crime, Says Officer

Last Thursday night, Florida International University football player Kendall Berry was stabbbed to death with a pair of scissors on campus. It doesn't seem like it could get much worse than that. But an FIU Police officer tells Riptide that students are lucky that the under-equipped and undermanned department was able to handle the aftermath of the murder -- and that it could have easily escalated into a worse situation.

Says the five-year veteran, who asked to remain anonymous: "Students pay a lot of money for safety, but we can't provide it the way the department is run."

Chief Bill King says he is "offended" by his officer's claims. "I don't think you'll find any department in the county that does not have a disgruntled officer in its ranks," he says. "Safety is our number one priority."

The anonymous officer was one of the cops involved in the pursuit of the two suspects -- one of whom was arrested on campus, and the other whom later turned himself in. The cop arrived at the scene a minute after the stabbing, he says, and knew immediately that Berry wouldn't survive: "He had the look, and the way, he was breathing, I knew he had no chance."

"The stabbing was going to happen regardless," he says. "But in the footchase, both suspects could have been caught immediately if we had proper manpower, and then we wouldn't have murderers fleeing through the campus."

Because it's a state school, FIU has its own municipal police department-- but only two officers patrol each of the university's two Miami campuses at one time, the cop says. And because high crime stats aren't exactly a big draw to prospective students, "policing is not encouraged," the officer says. "Any arrest that makes news is bad news to the chief."

But the university has its share of serious violent crime. The officer estimates that there are between ten and fifteen "armed robberies, carjackings, and assaults" on the FIU South campus. Police are overmatched, he says, and there's no investigative work to speak of.

"Campus law enforcement has to be a little different," counters Chief King-- but calls his officer's claim "completely unfounded... If my officers didn't respond to a situation, I'd be very disappointed."

He also calls untrue the cop's claim that only two officers are on duty on each campus at one time: "There might be times when there are eight to ten officers on regular duty. But there will never be a time when there's less than two on duty."

It's a complaint that pre-dates King's tenure as chief, which began in 2005. In 2004, New Times reported that police were frustrated that they were "not supposed to be aggressive crime fighters" in a story following the arrests of three football players after a shooting on campus.

The anonymous officer also complains that the university pinches pennies on equipment. His is the only local department that has low-tech radios that don't connect to Miami-Dade Police frequencies, he says. The radios lack a "lock-out feature" so that officers in pursuit can hear only each other, and they sometimes drop reception for four hours or more. "The university finds money for everything when they want to have it," he says, "We've been fighting for an effective radio, but they ignore it."

The university was fortunate that the stabbing occurred at the same time as a youth fair, he says: There were fifteen extra police working for the occasion. But he says the archaic radio system, which prevented Miami-Dade cops from communicating easily with FIU officers and helping the chase, is what allowed second suspect Quentin Rashad Wyche to escape.

Since the stabbing, the campus has been stocked with extra officers -- but the anonymous cop predicts the vigilant attitude won't last long. "Once this sort of goes away, everything will return to how it was before."

But don't tell Chief King that his department did not respond well to the Thursday night stabbing. "The campus was flooded with law enforcement officers from other agencies and emergency responders," he says. "I'm confident that even if there wasn't a youth fair at the time, we would have responded in the same way."

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Gus Garcia-Roberts