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Miami Police Complaints Jumped 24 Percent From 2016 to 2017, Overwhelmingly From Black Residents

Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina (center)
Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina (center)
City of Miami Police
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In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division whacked the City of Miami Police Department for disproportionately mistreating and using excessive force against black and brown residents. Six years later, DOJ is still monitoring city cops.

But there are clearly still issues.

Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel, a group of citizens who review complaints but cannot discipline officers, released its first-ever yearly comprehensive report. It shows not only that the CIP received the highest number of complaints since its inception in 2002, but that a whopping 50 percent came from black residents, even though blacks make up only 16 percent of the city's population.

According to a copy of the report obtained by New Times, the agency received 277 reports in 2017, which was 24 percent higher than the 223 it reviewed in 2016 and on par with the 276 in 2015.

And there are other concerns about the data: The CIP closes significantly more cases than the city's own Internal Affairs Bureau. While the panel listed only 14 percent of the incidents it received as "no finding," Internal Affairs could not reach a conclusion in 72 percent.

A CIP staffer declined to comment on the report's findings. MPD Chief Jorge Colina, who was not sworn in tooffice until 2018, did not immediately respond to a message from New Times today. (While ex-Chief Rodolfo Llanes was in charge throughout 2017, Colina was the department's Internal Affairs chief.)

Miami Police Complaints Jumped 24 Percent From 2016 to 2017, Overwhelmingly From Black Residents (2)
Miami Civilian Investigative Panel

Miami residents can complain either directly to Internal Affairs, to the CIP, or both. (The CIP also receives closed cases after IA has finished with them.) Per the report, the number filed directly to the CIP has increased for the last three years.

The reasons for the spike in complaints overall and those filed directly to the CIP is unclear. It could just be the result of bureaucracy and ease of filing. But it is clear there are specific instances in which the department's internal investigations office seemingly did not have citizens' best interests at heart. New Times has chronicled scores of cases in which officers were not punished or disciplined for obvious malfeasance — the newspaper recently outlined how police Capt. Javier Ortiz, the former head of the city's police union, keeps magically evading consequences for a never-ending list of complaints. (Ortiz has also steadfastly campaigned to shut the CIP down entirely.)

According to a state law called the Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights, cops cannot be disciplined if Internal Affairs cases take more than 180 days — and Miami IA cases often stretch longer than that six-month time limit. An officer recently caught on film choking a bar patron while off-duty likely will not face punishment for this reason.

The new report states that 38 percent of all complaints came from police District 5, a zone that includes poorer and majority-black neighborhoods such as Liberty City, Brownsville, and portions of Little Haiti and Little River — but only 20 percent of the city's population. A full 64 percent of District 5's residents identify as non-Hispanic blacks; in District 2, which has the second largest population of black residents, only 8 percent are African-American. The vast majority of "abusive treatment," "discourtesy," and "improper procedure" complaints came from black residents citywide.

Miami Police Complaints Jumped 24 Percent From 2016 to 2017, Overwhelmingly From Black Residents (3)
Miami Civilian Investigative Panel

The CIP has also repeatedly rebuked MPD officers for failing to wear body cameras or to properly store or upload footage. The report, again, encouraged the department to develop better rules to ensure that officers keep their cameras rolling. The panel says it recently surveyed a list of body-worn-camera cases and found 50 percent violated camera policy.

"The CIP is concerned about the non-use of the devices, the lack of policy compliance and the police department’s inability to publicly report its experiences with the cameras," the report warns.

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