A Miami-Dade sheriff? Election is best

The time might be ripe to resurrect the debate on whether Miami-Dade should have an elected sheriff responsible only to the voters. In a complex government such as Miami-Dade’s, the residents have earned the right to have a professional, law enforcement-trained elected official, preferably with top security clearance, whose sole purpose is the safety of residents. This position would be free of any other distractions or retribution from other elected officials, just like our clerk and property appraiser.

For years I have seen the politics that a sheriff’s office brings to the table, causing me to support the Miami-Dade system of having an appointed police director. Many changes that range anywhere from reducing police services to having one of our most respected and highly qualified directors, with plenty of service time left, quit only two days after the 2012 elections, have made me change my thinking. Certainly, the latest decision to decimate the Miami-Dade Police Department’s public-corruption unit has added to my convictions.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez was quoted as finding my expression of displeasure for his actions “laughable.” Could that be because the fox has just reduced the number of cops watching the hen house?

Sure, furnishing the FBI’s Public Corruption Unit with MDPD officers is a good idea, but that merely facilitates the investigation of federal crimes, not state crimes. In Miami-Dade County, we need strong corruption units at the local, state and federal levels. Having this three-pronged approach sends a powerful message to those who make a conscious decision to take advantage of their position within government for personal gain.

Glancing at recent events briefly, one can see that the community’s safety is no longer a priority in this part of the country, even though it is government’s supreme and foremost responsibility. When Gimenez first ran for mayor, he promised the residents that he would not close fire stations or lay off police officers when specifically asked by CBS-4 moderator Jim DeFede. Obviously, those promises proved to be invalid. While no police felt an actual day off, pink slips were in fact issued, and had it not been for union concessions, police officers would have been laid off.

Furthermore, the police department has been shrinking and police services reduced. Crime rates, in some cases, may have miraculously stayed low, but little attention has been paid to the closure of crimes, especially with Class 1 crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery and auto theft. I say “miraculously” because proactive police work in the unincorporated areas is almost nonexistent.

Many proactive units designed to curb crime and provide community policing have been eliminated, the cargo-theft task force was cut down to one detective to handle the daunting task of watching over one of the largest ports in the world. The auto-theft bureau was dismantled in a county that leads the nation in auto thefts and where more than 10 cars are stolen every day. Red flags should have gone up by every watchdog group when that happened. There are more examples of units that were created to deliver quicker responses, especially to those areas under siege by the criminal elements.

Generally, it’s the poorest who pay the dearest, for they don’t have the good fortune to live in gated communities or the ability to pick up the phone and throw a title around to get prompt service. In certain cases, when citizens call to report a crime, they are directed to go online and prepare the police report themselves, which could cause all sorts of unintended issues.

Just days ago, the mayor said publicly that he has added police officers to the department. The statement is misleading because the numbers he has added have not even replenished those that are leaving, much less bringing up the numbers that have been eliminated under his watch.

A sheriff with control over a dedicated budget could speak, not only freely, but to the public directly instead of the system we have in place now. While we have been blessed with great leadership at the directors’ level, the immeasurable pressures under which they are placed are not from the demands of the police job, but rather from interfering elected officials and/or high ranking bureaucrats, causing a huge disservice to our community and its safety.

I understand some may discount my comments as motivated by my distaste for the way Gimenez conducts business. However, my concerns transcend the issues I must fight for on behalf of the PBA and law-abiding citizens. Despite our public discord, I care very much about this community which has afforded my family and me many opportunities.

John Rivera is the president of the Police Benevolent Association in Miami-Dade County.

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