Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Investigating the investigators


OUR OPINION: Miami’s Civilian Investigative Panel, charged with monitoring police, is crippled by internal turmoil

Miami’s Civilian Investigative Panel hold its meetin at the Manuel Artime Community Center in Little Havana.
Miami’s Civilian Investigative Panel hold its meetin at the Manuel Artime Community Center in Little Havana.
City of Miami Civilian Investigative Panel website

The creation of Miami’s Civilian Investigative Panel a dozen years ago was a victory for local residents who felt brutalized by factions in a police department whose practices were eventually criticized by the U.S. Justice Department.

The 13-member panel was an independent voice that could question officers’ actions — from fatal shootings to the use of excessive force to lesser types of misconduct.

This was the goal: Acting outside an Internal Affairs setting, the panel was to take complaints, investigate, present findings at public hearings, then recommend what action, if any, the police chief should take against offending officers.

Back in 2001 Miami residents felt they badly needed citizen oversight. Mired in a spate of questionable fatal shooting by police, the CIP’s creation was a godsend and a visionary concept.

The Miami Herald recommended the creation of the panel in these pages. Voters passed a needed referendum. The panel had the wholehearted support of a coalition of agencies, including the ACLU, NAACP and People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality, which helped draft the original ordinance.

But it appears a good idea has soured. What a shame.

The Miami panel was the first board of its kind in Florida. And carrying the big stick of subpoena power, it was even cited as a national model for citizen oversight. Something truly to be proud off. No more.

Miami commissioners on Thursday voted to — get this — investigate the investigative panel, which now stands accused of institutional wrongdoing. How embarrassing. A five-member panel appointed to examine the CIP will present its findings in July.

“That this is happening is heartbreaking,’’ Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida told the Editorial Board. Mr. Simon was among those who pushed for the panel’s creation.

We hear the volunteer panel is eating itself from within. That it’s rocked by internal power struggles, questionable record keeping and impotent investigations that make citizens who have come before it with complaints sorry they wasted their time.

At the meeting, Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon said, “The CIP is supposed to stop bad cops from becoming terrors in our communities.” Well, not this current panel.

There are calls to fire new executive director Cristina Beamud and the panel’s long-time independent counsel Charles Mays. The problems rest on the shoulders of one or the other – depending on which side you’re on.

A coalition of community-based groups that helped form it have sent the city a four-page memo accusing Mr. Mays of usurping Ms. Beamud’s duties and giving “questionable legal opinions in an effort to stall certain cases.” Ms. Beamud’s detractors say she’s pushed out African-American employees since taking the helm.

Some commissioners did not sound optimistic about the future of the panel, which has a budget nearing $700,000.

What to do with the CIP? Fix it or kill it? Once the panel investigating the investigators unveils its findings, commissioners should act swiftly.

Giving the panel the death penalty would be difficult since it is part of the city’s charter. Besides, the panel’s initial, lofty goal — to protect the citizens of Miami — is something still worth fighting for.

Another option could be to choke the panel into insignificance by “unfunding” it.

Here’s a suggestion from the coalition of concerned agencies: Allow the new director to pick her staff — one that is representative of Miami’s diversity — and rebuild.

We say give Ms. Beamud six months to restore the CIP’s credibility and effectiveness, then reevaluate.

If problems persist, Miami residents should demand that the money given to the panel be better spent.

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