The long-awaited federal report on the Miami police portrays a department alarmingly short on training, procedural discipline and self-examination, repeatedly making the same errors and apparently incapable of reforming itself without outside supervision.
The report is no slap on the wrist, but rather a scathing and well-documented indictment of institutional failure regarding the use of force by Miami’s officers in the line of duty.
It calls into question both the leadership of the department over the years and the failed stewardship of the city’s civilian managers and elected officials, who are ultimately responsible for the welfare of Miami and its citizens.
For Miami, it’s déjà vu all over again. The city’s 1,100-member police force finds itself in hot water only 12 years after the Justice Department began an earlier probe that uncovered serious failings in use-of-force practices and recommended a series of changes. The reforms didn’t take. “Some of the problems are still entrenched,” the current report noted.
Federal investigators initiated the latest probe in November of 2011 in response to a public outcry after a series of controversial shootings in a seven-month stretch from July, 2010, to Feb., 2011, that wound up killing seven black men in the inner city. The review covered a longer period, from 2008 through 2011, and involved 33 police shootings of individuals.
Most of them occurred during the nearly two-year tenure of former Chief Miguel Exposito, but eight happened in 2009 when former Chief John Timoney led the department.
The conclusion of the 14-page report: “We find that MPD engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force with respect to firearms discharges, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Behind the shootings, the report found, is a police force riddled with bad practices that should outrage the citizens of Miami and its leaders.
• “Poor tactical decisions by officers,” including “poor marksmanship, shooting from too great a distance, failure to follow perimeter protocol, and firing at a moving vehicle.”
• Failure to await backup.
• “There were several incidents where officers fired their weapons without sufficient regard for potential risks to the community.”
• Investigators expressed concern “that officers failed to avail themselves of feasible lower-force options before shooting at someone, especially in cases involving persons in obviously compromised mental states or persons with mental illness.”
• Reviewing one such incident, the report noted, “Frequently, the failure of supervisors to command and control the scene in this and other deadly force incidents fostered poor tactical choices by the officers.”
And when officer-involved shootings occur, the report found, investigations are “unreasonably delayed,” with some probes lasting longer than three years. One has been pending for five years!
Federal investigators said they were encouraged that new Chief Manuel Orosa has implemented some remedial steps and that shootings in 2012 (four), were almost half what they were in each of the preceding four years. Chief Orosa has also dismantled tactical teams responsible for many of the shootings.
But the only way to make sure that all the needed changes are put in place — and remain in place — is to accept the Justice Department mandate of placing the Miami police force under the supervision of a federal court to enforce sweeping institutional changes. Among other things, this will ensure that no matter who is chief of police, the department will stay on the right track.
These changes should include better training, an urgent and thorough revision of all procedures for investigating officer-involved shootings, improved tactics and tactical planning — and much more.
We’ve been here before — a shocking report, a few reforms that expire quickly, and then the department lapses into its old ways. It can’t be allowed to happen again, for the sake of Miami’s residents and the future of the city itself.