In an effort to bring the ratio of cops to citizens more in line with other big cities, Miami will consider boosting the ranks of its police department by 100 officers over the coming year.
“If our intention is to be a world-class city, we need a police force that aligns itself with the standards followed by other high-density, high-rise cities,” said City Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff, who conceived the plan.
Sarnoff has an even larger vision: to add 300 positions over the next three years, to bring the total number of officers to 1,444.
That might be a challenge, however. The Miami Police Department is already about 50 officers short of the 1,144 positions included in the budget. Hiring takes a long time, in part because the department must follow special guidelines outlined by the Department of Justice.
And unlike most other South Florida police departments, Miami has its own civil-service test, adding an extra layer to the recruiting process.
Mayor Tomás Regalado says Sarnoff’s idea has merit. “But adding 30 or 40 officers would be more realistic,” he said. “The process of hiring is still very difficult.”
Sarnoff isn’t willing to settle. He plans to make his pitch to the City Commission Thursday.
His argument is based on the fact that Miami employs fewer police officers per capita than other densely populated cities.
In Baltimore, there are 4.7 officers for every 1,000 residents, according to a recent Miami Police Department analysis. Atlanta and Memphis have four and 3.76 officers, respectively.
Miami, meanwhile, employs 2.6 officers for every 1,000 residents.
Sarnoff and other proponents say moreover that that figure ignores the fact that the population swells from about 410,000 to more than 560,000 during the work day.
“We don’t have enough officers to deal with that,” said Sarnoff, whose commission district includes downtown, Brickell, Coconut Grove and Miami’s Upper East Side.
If the 50 existing vacancies were filled and another 100 sworn officers were added to the force, the number of officers for every 1,000 residents would rise to 3.06, according to the analysis.
Police Chief Manuel Orosa declined to comment for this report.
But in the analysis, Orosa wrote that “the additional personnel would be used to create new uniform patrol positions, to fill vacant positions in the Criminal Investigations Division, which is currently understaffed, and to create additional beat and bicycle patrol positions.”
He estimated the cost of 100 new positions to be about $7.4 million a year.
City Manager Johnny Martinez said Orosa’s estimate likely falls short of the actual cost. “You have to consider the cars, the fuel, the uniforms,” he said.
Even with the additional expenses, Sarnoff insisted the city’s $500 million budget can handle 100 additional officers. “Our revenues are rising,” he said.
But finding the money may not be the biggest roadblock.
For more than a year, the police department has been losing officers to retirement faster than it can replace them. The city has to advertise civil service tests three months before they’re given, and also must also work with various community groups to ensure a diverse group of applicants.
Job candidates must then pass a physical fitness test, take a psychological exam and undergo a background check — and that’s before the six-month police academy even begins.