• In October, Hialeah Detective Raul Samaria was involved in an accident that killed Andrea Castillo, the 21-year-old daughter of Miami-Dade School Board member Susie Castillo. Andrea Castillo’s boyfriend, Marco Barrios, was driving the SUV that collided with Samaria’s police cruiser at East Ninth Court and 49th Street at 9:45 on a Friday night. In a matter of days, the department investigated and concluded Barrios had caused the crash after running a stop sign. The families of Barrios and Castillo have sued the city, contending the officer was speeding. The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office is investigating.
• Last summer, the department fired two school traffic officers, Mario Hernandez and Mari Del Diego, working at M.A. Milam K-8 Center in Hialeah. Hernandez was dismissed for allegedly drinking on the job and Del Diego for not reporting the incident. City officials decried the officers’ alleged actions at the time. “Employees who are not giving their full capacity do not deserve to work for the citizens of Hialeah,” Hernandez told El Nuevo Herald in June. At the time, the two maintained their innocence.
During Memorial Day weekend 2011, three Hialeah officers, working with Miami Beach police, were involved in the shooting and killing of a 22-year-old man at around 4 a.m. on Collins Avenue during Urban Beach Week. Police have said Raymond Herisse, from Boynton Beach, refused an order to pull over while speeding on Collins. Police fired more than 100 rounds during the shootout. Herisse, who died on the scene, was shot 16 times, according to autopsy reports released earlier this month. Three bystanders were also wounded. Prosecutors are investigating whether the officers’ shootings were justified.
As part of covering Urban Beach Week, the Miami Beach Police Department mobilizes hundreds of officers, including those from other police departments. The city also keeps cars off Ocean Drive, turns Collins into a one-way street and sets up license plate scanners on the causeways.
“Unfortunately, there may have been a misstep with the plan, as far as controlling traffic,” said Overton, the former Hialeah chief and current Beach deputy chief.
Overton said it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to comment on the current state of Hialeah’s department, though he said he was proud of his five-year tenure there.
Luis, the union representative, said Hialeah has always had a reputation for being the “Wild West” — a perception he feels is an oversimplification for the city of nearly 230,000.
A 15-year veteran of the department, Luis said he’s seen the number of police officers in the department shrink while the city’s population has risen. Hialeah, like other cities in South Florida, has contended with lower property tax revenues in recent years, resulting in budget cuts.
Luis said the police department has 293 officers, down from its pre-recession peak of about 380.
“We’re working with less, and we’re asked to do more,” Luis said.
Tony Sanchez, who previously served as Opa-locka deputy chief and currently teaches criminology at Miami-Dade College, said it’s fair to wonder whether the department is in good shape after the number of high-profile cases.
“I think that’s always a complicated topic that never has an easy answer to it,” he said.
Overall, he said, evaluating a department involves taking a look at the whole picture, including hiring practices, required training and whether or not there’s an early warning system in place to identify problem officers. According to a 2001 research paper on early warning systems published by the U.S. Department of Justice, a department can identify problem officers by monitoring factors like citizen complaints, firearm-discharge and use-of-force reports, lawsuits, resisting-arrest incidents, and high-speed pursuits and vehicular damage.
Sanchez said it’s important to note that the police were “effective and aggressive in policing themselves” in the gun trafficking and cocaine cases.
He has a high opinion of the department stemming from when he was with the Opa-locka department and in teaching Hialeah officers in his criminology courses.
“Given the size of the department, given the diversity of the community, I don’t think it’s unusual at all,” he said.
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