With Miami-Dade police cadets facing layoffs, a top administrator urges: ‘Fight for them!’

08/08/2014 2:07 PM

08/08/2014 7:56 PM

Miami-Dade has a grim message for its newest police officers: prepare to lose your jobs.

With layoffs looming at the county’s police agency, the class of 47 recruits sworn in as officers this week are officially on the chopping block. Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s budget calls for their positions to be eliminated once the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The cadets’ iffy employment prospects became a centerpiece of their swearing-in ceremony Thursday when the department’s No. 2 official delivered a fiery speech against the planned cuts and urging the audience to “fight for them.”

Praising the cadets’ for enduring a 36-week training program that cost the county about $2.5 million, deputy police director Juan Perez said Miami-Dade couldn’t afford to lose the recruits.

“This same tenacity is what we need out there —outside these walls — telling the community, the commissioners, the mayor, whoever is listening, that we need them,’’ Perez shouted from the podium, according to a video of the event. “Be loud! be vocal!”

The speech created a media stir Friday following a report in El Nuevo Herald, and captured an increasingly bitter battle over the police department, home to the largest payroll in Miami-Dade government. Gimenez’s budget calls for cutting more than 250 positions from the department unless county unions agree to concessions. The mayor’s spokesman on Friday lashed out at police-union chief John Rivera, accusing him of stone-walling negotiations.

“The mayor is out there trying to work options so that there are no police officers losing their jobs,’’ said Mike Hernández, Gimenez’s communications chief. The police union “won’t return our phone calls. It won’t return our emails. John Rivera is flat-out lying.”

Rivera was not immediately available for comment, but in public statements he has warned the mayor’s budget threatened public safety and that criminals “should be sending a little gift card to Carlos Gimenez.”

Last month, county commissioners endorsed keeping the county’s main property taxes flat, a key driver in the revenue shortfall facing police, corrections, transit and Miami-Dade’s other large agencies facing cuts.

Most of the police-officer cuts would come from investigators, and Miami-Dade’s top cop said Friday the plan would leave more crimes unsolved in the county.

“It’s going to impact the frequency and rapidity with which we follow-up on crimes,’’ said J.D. Patterson, the county’s police director and Perez’s boss. Asked if that meant more crimes would go unsolved, Patterson responded: “Obviously, if you have fewer people doing the jobs, yes.”

As Miami-Dade braces for police cuts, the city of Miami is preparing to bolster is law-enforcement ranks. On Friday, the county’s police union released a letter it received from Miami’s police chief saying the city is interested in hiring officers who lose their positions in Miami-Dade.

“I find myself in the unfortunate situation of writing to you regarding the Miami-Dade police officers who may be laid off in the near future,’’ Miami chief Manuel Orosa wrote to Rivera in the Aug. 7 letter. “I would hope that management and labor reach an amicable agreement which would prevent even one layoff from occurring.”

Gimenez wants county unions to extend pay concessions that were adopted in 2011 but set to expire on Oct. 1. He also wants unions to agree to new health plans that would reduce the county’s insurance costs by 15 percent. Rivera and other union leaders called for commissioners to increase property taxes in order to avoid the payroll cuts called for in Gimenez’s budget.

A day after his graduation speech, Perez cited the one tax increase commissioners did approve — a rate boost for the county’s library district — as a motivation behind his impassioned remarks.

“I saw a passionate group of library supporters come before the commission,’’ Perez said during a press conference called to address his Thursday remarks. “I saw them raise the [tax rate] for libraries. I said to myself, that is what we are missing… We need to do a better job getting the community to come out and support us.”

Gimenez insists Miami-Dade does not need higher property taxes to fix its budget squeeze, and Perez said later he’s not endorsing an increase. “I’m not saying the higher millage is the answer,’’ he said, using the technical term for tax rate.

Widely seen as Patterson’s successor, Perez began his brief graduation remarks with a dramatic gesture. He pulled his badge off of his uniform and plunked it down on the lectern. “I am un-deputizing myself,’’ he told the crowd of fellow police officers and civilians there for the ceremony at Miami’s Fire Tower banquet hall.

His voice rising, Perez launched into a rousing call to action, though he never offered a path to avoiding layoffs. “Do not let them go! Let’s hold on to them,’’ he yelled. “Fight for them! As you would have them fight for you.”

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