The Miami city commission is bracing itself for a planned protest by police union members at City Hall Thursday.
The last time unionized Miami officers protested during a city commission meeting, in February, the gathering unraveled as dozens of officers flooded the commission chambers, some shouting and banging on windows and doors. The ruckus caused commissioners to leave the dais and halt the meeting for about 20 minutes.
As a result of the protest, Police Chief Manuel Orosa warned officers in a department-wide email that future disruptions of official meetings could lead to arrests. Earlier this month, Orosa also passed an administrative rule that prohibits officers from carrying their guns into the commission chambers during official meetings unless they are assigned to City Hall or responding to a call.
Thursday will be the first time either directive is tested.
On Wednesday, Orosa declined to say what his intentions are should police act out at the protest. Mayor Tomás Regalado said high-ranking officers will be assigned to City Hall to maintain order.
Sgt. Javier Ortiz, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, said protesters do not intend to break any local, state or federal laws. Officers have called the demonstration over prior cuts to their benefits that have yet to be restored. They blame Regalado, for pushing the city in past years to call a financial urgency, a move that made it easier for commissioners to make cuts to union wages and benefits.
“We will demonstrate within the realm of our First Amendment rights. If the police chief wants to intimidate us and violate our first amendment rights we’ll see him in federal court,” Ortiz said.
Officers will congregate at nearby Peacock Park, then march over to City Hall to demonstrate outside, Ortiz said. Officers will also take their objections into the commission chambers just as they did in February, Ortiz said.
As for officers carrying guns into the city meeting, Ortiz declined to comment.
Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez said officers should be allowed to carry their guns into the meetings.
“I don’t agree with the no-guns rule. Our officers are empowered to protect us at all times,” said Suarez. “What message does that send to the people in the city if we don’t trust our own police officers with their weapons?”
At Thursday’s commission meeting, Regalado said he wants the protesters to respect the established protocols for commission meetings. For instance, if protesters are not recognized to speak on the agenda or by a commissioner, they should not shout out, he said.
“I think they have the right to protest. They’re not on the agenda so I don’t see a reason for them to speak at the meeting,” he said.
Regalado said he makes no apologies for his past decisions that led to cuts in the union’s contract. At the time, Regalado said the move to call a financial urgency was the best option for the city.
“The decisions that we took in 2010 and 2011 saved their future,” said Regalado. “I’m not afraid of taking the responsibility. I did lead the charge.”
Union contract negotiations typically bring out impassioned emotions, Suarez said.
“I expect the officers will protest peacefully and that is their right,” said Suarez “I expect them to act in a manner befitting their charge.”
Miami Herald staff writer Charles Rabin contributed to this report.