Despite those efforts, some critics maintain the department’s problems are more deeply rooted in a young, inexperienced workforce that is poorly trained and supervised. They also say the department fails to reflect Miami’s diverse community and has a reputation for a cowboy-like mentality.
“I’m concerned about this pattern of misconduct by the Miami Police Department,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, echoing the sentiment of other civil rights activists. “There needs to be a widespread investigation.”
Orosa says further proof of his commitment to change is putting a higher priority on following the rules: Internal Affairs officers now often appear at roll call and ride around with officers on patrol, to make their presence known.
“We are using Internal Affairs almost like Big Brother,” Orosa said. “We want our cops to know that I.A. is out there and they are going to get caught.”
But some get caught sooner than others. The protection work at the Player’s Club Barber Shop in Liberty City went on for almost two years without detection, sources said.
The scheme was ultimately discovered by detectives with the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who were investigating bookmaking at the shop when they noticed the abundance of officers there. Patrol cars were so common at the store that one gambling suspect told investigators he thought the shop was run by the police, court records show.
It’s not the first time that off-duty work has led to something more sinister. In 2008, Officer Geovani Nuñez was lured into a drug-protection racket while working as a security guard at Club Space and other nightclubs. His side job for the drug dealers turned out to be another FBI sting. Nuñez and a second Miami officer were ultimately charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and Nuñez was sentenced to 11 years in prison, court records show.
Miami’s Civilian Investigative Panel, an independent oversight board, later recommended reforms to the way off-duty jobs are doled out, to prevent officers from getting too cozy with the people who hire them. But the panel received no response from then-Chief John Timoney.
The officers “can lose their loyalties,” said the panel’s chairman, Tom Cobitz, a criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor. “That’s our biggest fear.”
Orosa said he is adding an additional supervisor to oversee the office that arranges off-duty assignments for officers, to ensure that officers are working only on approved jobs, and that they show up as promised. But he believes the greater danger from off-duty jobs is not the potential for corruption, but the risk of officers working too many back-to-back assignments and becoming fatigued.
Orosa said he has been more aggressive than the previous chief about punishing officers who break the rules. Last year, the number of officer reprimands spiked to 89, up from only 10 reprimands the year before, police records show. Twenty-four officers were relieved of duty for pending investigations last year, up from seven in 2011.
Under Exposito, “we did not do enough to police our own,” Orosa said. “Things are not going to get tolerated that were tolerated before.”