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March 27, 2013

Miami, already hiring more police, plans to add 33 cops next year

As the city moves toward meeting its targeted number of police officers, administrators will propose 33 new hires next year, bolstering the force to 1,177.

The city of Miami plans to bolster its staff next year by 33 police officers, inching closer to police-to-residents ratios of other cities its size — but backing off an earlier, more aggressive plan to hire 100 cops.

“Times are changing, there are more and more visitors to Miami, and we have an expanding population,” said Police Chief Manuel Orosa, explaining the need for more officers.

A majority of the city commission and the mayor had expressed support for the higher hiring number, pressed by Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff.

But after City Manager Johnny Martinez met with Budget Director Danny Alfonso and Orosa in recent weeks, the trio determined the plan was too ambitious. It would have meant adding about $11 million, as opposed to $3.5 million for the smaller number, to next year’s budget for salary and equipment costs.

The more immediate goal: reaching the 1,144-officer count the city has budgeted for this year. Right now, Miami has 1,087 cops, with another 42 going through the training or hiring process. Fifteen other more senior positions are frozen until the applicants pass a U.S. Department of Justice exam stemming from an old civil rights complaint against the department.

The 33 new officers could be certified cops or rookies, Orosa said. Certified officers from other police departments, though more expensive, can hit the road immediately. Rookies require police academy training before they hit the street.

The Miami Police Department has been understaffed for several years as the city overcame a series of budget shortfalls and retirements. Hiring is difficult. Even before a six-month training session for new hires begins, the city has to advertise civil service tests three months before they are given, and candidates must pass physical and psychological exams.

There have also been administrative issues between the human relations and police departments that delayed hirings. Orosa said those bottle-necks have been “cleared up,” and hiring to get to the 1,144 level is well underway.

The additional 33 slots would be proposed by the administration in the city’s 2013-14 budget, which commissioners can change and ultimately must sign off on. Cutting proposed police staffing is unpopular and unlikely, however, and the majority of commissioners have already said they’d go along with adding up to 100 new officers.

Sarnoff has been fighting for years to increase police staff, to little avail. At a commission meeting Thursday he plans to discuss a report that Orosa compiled, showing that Miami has one of the lowest per-capita police ratios of any U.S. city with more than 100,000 people, well behind Altanta, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

“God bless Commissioner Sarnoff,” Orosa said. “He’d like 100 cops over night. But we have to do what’s prudent.”

Sarnoff said he won’t be deterred. “I intend on going forward and asking for 100 cops every year’’ until 300 new officers are hired, he said.

Orosa has even more-pressing issues than the current shortfall: He expects to lose more than 200 officers in the next two to three years through incentive-laden early-retirement programs. In preparation for the necessary new hires, the chief said he’s already beefed up the background-investigations squad from five to 20 people.

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