Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Officers, not a mob

 

OUR OPINION: Miami police can have their say without crossing the line of professionalism

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

Police officers slapping handcuffs on police officers — their colleagues? Just the thought is unsavory. But Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa laid down the law last week, and he got it right. A day after a protest by off-duty officers over salary and benefit concessions went from calm to crazed, Chief Orosa warned that if the chaos happened again, any officers involved would be prosecuted.

It’s tough talk from a chief who has resolutely taken charge and clamped down on a troubling laxness — with the potential for bad situations to occur — that crept into the department under his predecessor. So his warning is no surprise — and should be seen as a welcome show of rectitude by all Miamians who expect officers of the law to hew to a higher standard.

Things started out so well one day last week. According to the police department, off-duty officers staged a quiet protest at Peacock Park in Coconut Grove.

During the past few years, they made salary and benefit concessions that the city desperately needed to fill a huge hole in the budget. The police, like many other city employees, made the sacrifice and understandably want to be made whole again now that the city is on firmer financial footing.

The Peacock Park protest — for which police had the proper permits — was peaceful and to the point.

But in the process of driving that point home, the “car” swerved. The officers then strode up to City Hall, where a commission meeting was in progress. Their signs and T-shirts said: “Low pay, low morale.” Their shouts of “Regalado gotta go!” referring to Mayor Tomás Regalado, and “Restore pay!” were increasingly raucous.

The meeting was disrupted, and the commissioners left the dais for a bit. For elected officials, it was all in a day’s work. But for the unelected city staffers who were then frightened by the officers’ over-the-top behavior, not so much.

The officers charged up to City Hall’s second floor, where the administrative offices are. They banged on the doors, sending startled workers flying to lock them to protect themselves from … the police? Had any other disgruntled mob — and that’s just what the officers morphed into — done the same thing, 911 would have been the first call made.

This was conduct unbecoming, and Chief Orosa’s stance is clear.

Union pushback and bluster are expected when contract negotiations are under way, as they are now. Mr. Regalado did a good job a few years back in wresting concessions from well-padded union contracts to put revenues on a more-stable foundation. But the crisis has eased and, as the Editorial Board said last November, the union contracts are “a well that the city should not turn to again and again.”

But egregious misbehavior by aggrieved police officers is simply unacceptable. On this, the police chief and Fraternal Order of Police leader Javier Ortiz seem to agree. Mr. Ortiz, while decrying what he sees as an attempt to deny officers their First Amendment right to protest — we beg to differ — also said: “I do not condone unprofessionalism or illegal acts.”

Now, both the chief and the union leader must assure the public that complaints of low pay and low morale are not going to result in intentionally low performance by police officers. There is no doubt that the mob of officers was a tiny minority of the force whose actions don’t speak for the majority of professionals in the department. But it’s one more point that demands to be driven home.

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