The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Back on the beat


OUR OPINION: Make sure Miami’s new police officers are visible, effective

Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has been on target in pushing for more police hiring. Last week’s announcement that the police department is bringing on at least 33 more officers next year is welcome news, but it doesn’t mean that the push for even more should stop.

Population growth, fueled especially by those new residential high-rises, has increased demand for police services. The art and science museums in Bicentennial Park will bring new numbers of visitors to the area. Big-crowd events, whether a show at the Arsht Center, a Heat game at the arena or the just-finished Ultra Music Festival in Bayfront Park always need a police presence. And that’s just in Miami’s downtown.

Keeping residential neighborhoods safe cannot take a back seat. Homeowners and condo dwellers depend on a police force that responds to emergencies quickly and that also takes the long view, working to encourage conditions that prevent incidents of crime. And several seemingly random shootings in just the past few months show that police need to double down their resources in these areas.

That means more officers on the street, visible. It also means residents reaching out to help stem crime because they see the police as partners, not as the enemy.

All of this demands ample resources. But the police department has been anything but flush. Rather, it has remained understaffed, the victim over the years of a sluggish city budget and retirements from the force. Together these have left the department with one of the lowest per-capita police ratios among U.S. cities with more than 100,000 people. Miami trails Atlanta, Philadelphia and Baltimore, for goodness’ sake. That’s an intolerable, and perilous, position for city constantly seeking to boost tourism, attract business and lure new residents. These elements make a city vibrant and financially strong.

But any unforeseen uptick in crime, and an inability for law enforcement to address it effectively, can send the people Miami wants to attract running the other way. We’ve seen it before.

Some city leaders, including Police Chief Manuel Orosa, had hoped to bring on 100 additional officers. Budget realities reduced the number to 33, at a cost of $3.5 million instead of the $11 million that the greater number of officers would have added to the budget. Another 42 officers are in the pipeline, Mr. Orosa says. Good to hear.

Miami’s police department not only must concern itself with the quantity of officers, but also with the quality: with the integrity and ability of those hired, the training they receive and the department policies that guide them.

The great majority of police who put themselves at risk every day operate by the rules and are dedicated to making a difference.

However, the rush to add to the force must not come at the expense of thoroughly vetting each and every new hire.

Not all of them will be rookies. Some will be veterans of other police forces. The city can’t afford to provide a haven for other departments’ problem officers, and the newbies must be up to the demands of the job. Over the next few years, Miami police will lose about 200 officers through early-retirement programs. That’s a lot of experience going out the door.

Thursday, city commissioners said they were commited to reaching the 100-officer hiring mark. That’s good to hear, too, and the police chief — and residents — should hold them to their stated commitment.

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