Excruciating Red Tape Stalls Miami-Dade's Police Oversight Board

What's happening with Miami-Dade's police oversight panel?
What's happening with Miami-Dade's police oversight panel? Photo by Miami-Dade Police Department
Against the backdrop of social-justice protests in South Florida and across the U.S. after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Miami-Dade County commissioners revived a long-defunded oversight board to investigate complaints of excessive force and other misconduct by local police officers.

Although the initiative met resistance from the police union, some commissioners, and Miami-Dade's former mayor, the measure to reinstate the Independent Civilian Panel (ICP) passed in August.

But eight months later, the oversight panel has gone nowhere. The seats on the ICP remain mostly empty, as most commissioners haven't yet made their nominations for who will serve on the board. A second more-involved nomination process is also bogging things down.

The county law that created the panel says members can be seated in one of two ways: through direct appointments by commissioners, or via a nominating committee that reviews applications from the public and makes recommendations. Commissioners can choose someone from the nominating committee's list, or they can scrap the recommendations and make their own pick.

The problem is that one seat for the nominating committee itself remains empty. Nine county advisory boards are supposed to each get one representative on the nominating committee. Those boards include the Asian American Advisory Board, Black Affairs Advisory Board, the Commission for Women, the Community Relations Board, the Elder Affairs Advisory Board, the Hispanic Affairs Advisory Board, the Interfaith Advisory Board, the LGBTQ Advisory Board, and the Military Affairs Advisory Board.

All but the Interfaith Advisory Board have made their nominations. That's because the Interfaith Advisory Board is newly formed and has seated only seven out of the 14 members it needs to make votes and conduct other business.

If you're keeping up, what's delaying the Independent Civilian Panel is that one county advisory board needs to choose someone to serve on the nominating committee, which would then need to review applications from people who want to sit on the panel. Only then could the nominating committee make recommendations to county commissioners. And commissioners, who can bypass the red tape of the nominating process and make their own appointments, haven't all chosen to do so.

When the ICP was being debated last year, part of the controversy involved whether commissioners should be able to choose their own appointees or whether advisory boards should vet community members to determine who was the best fit.

In a statement to New Times, Commissioner Eileen Higgins said she believes that while getting recommendations from the nominating committee is the more transparent thing to do, she won't wait any longer.

"It's unfortunate that the process was not initiated," Higgins said. "That's why I will move to make a direct appointment."

So far, four commissioners — Sally Heyman, Rebeca Sosa, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, and Rene Garcia — have appointed a member to the panel. Commissioner Javier Souto's nomination is pending.

New Times emailed each of the commissioners who haven't yet made appointments.

Commissioner Raquel Regalado's chief of staff said they were in the process of nominating members to county advisory boards, including the ICP.

Vice chairman Oliver Gilbert's chief of staff also tells New Times the commissioner is in the process of making his nomination.

Commissioner Kionne McGhee will await the recommendations of the nominating committee and either choose from their suggestions or make his own appointment. McGhee's deputy chief of staff tells New Times that the commissioner believes it's the right thing to allow the nominating committee a chance to do its work.

Spokespeople for the remaining commissioners — Jean Monestime, Keon Hardemon, Danielle Cohen Higgins, and Joe Martinez — have not responded to New Times' requests for comment.

Reinstatement of the Independent Civilian Panel was the result of years of advocacy from social-justice groups and then-Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who was the main sponsor to reinstate civilian oversight of police in Miami-Dade.

Rodney Jacobs, assistant director of the City of Miami's own Civilian Investigative Panel, says it's important to get the county panel up and running. Jacobs was one of the people who consulted on the formation of the county police-oversight board. He says it's ideal for the nominating committee to make appointments rather than the commissioners, but that the more important hiring decisions are for the panel's executive director and staff members, who will be the ones actually investigating complaints from the public and then forwarding their recommendations to the panel.

"It's important that the ICP move forward without additional delay," Jacobs says. "When this ordinance was passed, it highlighted the urgency we needed for police accountability. We need not waste any more time in providing the necessary services the people demanded. Now with one of the most diverse board of county commissioners in recent history, I'm hopeful that the ICP will receive the necessary appointments."
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Alexi C. Cardona is a former staff writer at Miami New Times.