Miami Beach

Miami Beach

Miami Beach Police Department’s policies to be audited


By Christina Veiga

An audit of the Miami Beach Police Department has officially begun.

City commissioners authorized the audit months ago, in response to embarrassing media coverage of the police force and its handling of some high-profile cases.

At the time, the commission said they wanted a review to help shake an undeserved bad rap -- not because they felt the police force had done wrong.

A team from the Police Executive Research Forum will conduct a review of the department’s resource allocations, staffing, productivity and equipment, among other issues.

According to the city, the forum will examine: department policies and reporting processes; recruitment, selection and firing, and the promotional process; department training; accountability process, early intervention systems, internal systems and processes; and off-duty employment practices.

The Miami Beach Police Department has worked to restore its reputation following a string of questionable behavior by cops.

During Memorial Day weekend in 2011, police fired 116 bullets at a drunk driver, killing him and wounding four bystanders. The shooting involved Miami Beach police as well as officers from other local law enforcement departments.

Two months later, two officers were pictured partying with a bachelorette at the Clevelander Hotel pool bar on South Beach while on duty. One of the cops drunkenly took the bride-to-be on a predawn ATV ride on the sand, running over and seriously injuring two beach-goers, according to prosecutors.

More recently, a police detective was accused of roughing up a drunk model and kicking a man in the head after he tried to intervene. The death of a teenage graffiti artist after being shocked with a Taser also raised questions about the department’s use of force. And news reports of 911 dispatchers appearing to be asleep while on duty prompted City Manager Jimmy Morales to yank control of the emergency communications center from the police department, and hand it to a civilian emergency manager.

Current Police Chief Raymond Martinez became top cop in 2012, though he had served at the second-in-command before then. Since taking control of the department, he has added staff to the internal affairs department, which investigates complaints against cops. A member of the FBI is also detached to the department.

“I think we’ve made significant changes in accountability in our policies,” Martinez said.

From 2009 - 2011, Martinez said there were 10 cases of officers intentionally firing their weapons. Since he’s become chief, Martinez said there have been none.

“Which is significant,” he said.

The chief also said that, whereas there had been 49 allegations of officers using excessive force within the previously cited time frame, there have only been 14 in the past two years.

With those figures in mind, coupled with the department’s recent reaccreditation, Martinez said he welcomes the audit.

“My philosophy is, if there is something we can improve on, that’s what we should be doing as an organization,” the chief said.

Alex Bello, president of the Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police, also said he’s not concerned about what the audit may uncover regarding to police practices. Rather, Bello said he thinks the problems with the police department are caused by politics.

The union president said Tuesday that he had already met with some of the auditors.

“I don’t feel the least bit worried or apprehensive. I went in there and gave them my view of what’s going on, and hopefully that will get translated into the document and the city commission will realize that there are some issues, and they need to help us by giving us the resources we need and not setting us up for failure,” Bello said.

He has questioned the city’s responses to allegations of wrongdoing, and has accused officials of knee-jerk reactions to appease the public.

“If the politicians can stick to what they do, which is politics and leave the chief to run his department, I think we’ll be much better off,” Bello said.

Auditors will be present the week of Feb. 24. It’s not yet known when findings will be released.

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.

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