Outrage: Police Review Board Screwed Again By City Politicians

Back in the bad old days of 2002,  the City of Miami Police Department had some nasty habits: shooting dozens of people, beating suspects, ripping through the city on dangerous chases.

City police averaged 80 shootings every year and killed 15 suspects -- most black and poor. Things got so bad that Mayor Manny Diaz asked the Justice Department to come in and tell the cops how to shape up.

And voters overwhelmingly approved a new review board called the Civilian Investigative Panel. They created a CIP to police the police, because the cops obviously couldn't do it right.

Six years later, the city's cops and politicians have apparently decided that the voters were wrong, because they're doing everything in their power to destroy the CIP. If you're a taxpayer and you don't fancy the idea of a police force gone wild, you should be outraged.

The latest evidence came last night, when a CBS4 investigation revealed that City Manager Pete Hernandez completely ignored the CIP's vote to fire its executive director, Shirley Richardson, for incompetence. Hernandez gave Richardson a fake job in his office and kept drawing her $168,000-a-year salary out of the panel's budget.

"With the budget strained and resources stretched, it's difficult to understand this," CIP chairman Tom Rebull told CBS4's Gary Nelson.

It's a story the Miami Herald and everyone else in town seems to have completely ignored. And it's not the only way the voter's wish for some police oversight is being crushed.

City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones wants to change the way the board is choosen. Instead of independent appointments approved by the commission, Spence-Jones wants the politicians and police to pick everyone themselves.

Hmmm, sounds like a great idea, Michelle. Independent oversight works really well when your job depends on the whims of city commissioners and police chiefs.

If that's not bad enough, the Fraternal Order of Police has essentially de-fanged the panel with an ongoing lawsuit.

Voters gave the board the power to subpoena police officers. You know, so they could actually have some legal power to force cops to testify about why they shot and beat suspects. When that power was tested a few years back, the panel won a big victory -- forcing Chief John Timoney to testify under oath about the free Lexus he was driving around.

The FOP, apparently, cannot tolerate such power. The group is suing the CIP and arguing that its subpoena power is illegal. Until that case is resolved, the panel is powerless to force police to testify under oath. So pretty much powerless in general.

Hopefully everyone in Miami is feeling some 2002 nostalgia -- shootings and cop chases and beatings and all. A new era of police abuse could be right around the corner.

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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