And though the city budgeted for 1,144 officers this year, it remains almost 40 officers shy of that number, as some have taken early retirement, others have fled for better pay, and a lengthy hiring process has taken its toll. Miami’s police-to-population ratio of about two officers for every 1,000 residents is about half that of several other cities with similar populations like Baltimore and Atlanta — as Commission Chair Marc Sarnoff has argued repeatedly over the past 18 months.
“We are the lowest staffed police department of any department over 100,000 in the country,” Sarnoff said at the first hearing. “What I’ve noticed is those one- to five-year cops have no vested interest to stay.”
Police Chief Manuel Orosa said he needs more officers and they need more money. He believes both can be accomplished, but it will require squeezing other departments and placing a freeze on new hires citywide.
The chief, though, sees an even bigger issue down the road: The city will lose 251 officers by 2017 through an early retirement program. Only about 20 are expected to leave in 2014, but the numbers will increase dramatically the next three years.
That means no matter how many officers Miami hires, the city is likely to keep losing ground.
“We’ll catch up next year,” said Orosa. “Then the following year, it’ll take us a while to recoup.”
It may take longer than the chief wishes if the troops who flooded City Hall’s chambers two weeks ago stick to their words and flee to higher paying agencies.
One of the officers at that meeting: Det. Armando Alvarez, 25. A six-year veteran who skyrocketed to detective rank after serving on the department’s problem-solving team, he lives with his girlfriend of four years and her daughter. Vacations are down to occasional visits to Disneyland. “With her salary and mine it wouldn’t be feasible” to buy a home, Alvarez said.
The detective earns $50,804 a year and most of his benefits have been cut. He delayed getting a college degree after the city cut the $2,400-a-year tuition reimbursement program. He hasn’t had a raise since 2009, his second year on the force. His pension contribution has jumped, from seven percent to 10. Alvarez is considering joining a federal law enforcement agency and said he’s waiting to apply for an opening at Miami-Dade police. Though an officer with Alvarez’s experience would earn slightly less at Miami-Dade, Alvarez feels his future would be brighter.
To make ends meet Alvarez said he works whatever overtime is available — the Ultra Festival, Calle Ocho, Miami Heat games.
“Those jobs are headaches in themselves,” said Alvarez. “We depend a lot on my in-laws for help with our daughter.”
On the other side of the budget battle are Coconut Grove residents. Though the area has seen a slight drop in overall crime, there have been alarming increases in larcenies and burglaries in some of their neighborhoods. Amandi and several of his neighbors have been burglarized the past year as the Grove’s southern zone has suffered a 67 percent spike in burglaries over the previous year.
Orosa acknowledges other areas in the city could use more officers as well, like blossoming but still-edgy Wynwood.