Coral Gables police suspended a high-ranking police officer and former interim police chief after she was accused of spying on a resident at last Wednesday’s commission meeting.
Maj. Theresa Molina, who has been with the department for more than 20 years, was suspended with pay as the department conducts an Internal Affairs investigation.
“As is our policy, we will not make any further statements about this investigation until it is concluded,” the police department said in a statement.
The incident took place early in the Sept. 28 meeting during a presentation and discussion on the city’s neighborhood safety aide program. Resident Maria Cruz, who has often expressed concerns about the city’s police department and filling vacant positions, said that while she was texting Commissioner Vince Lago and requesting an opportunity to address the commission she was being watched by Molina.
“I have never been so insulted,” Cruz said at the meeting. “Am I under surveillance?”
As Cruz finished up her comments and returned to her seat, Molina can be heard in a video recording of the meeting saying, “Stop texting the commissioners.”
City Attorney Craig Leen said from the dais that there was nothing wrong with residents texting elected officials and Lago said that he had no problem with residents reaching out to him during meetings. He called Molina’s apparent actions inappropriate.
“My job is to interact with every single employee, every single resident and every single business owner and I will never stop doing that,” Lago said.
The extended discussion on the neighborhood safety aides item was due in part to the use of a security firm, FPI Security Services, for late night patrolling in the North Gables, as first reported by WPLG Local 10. Last month a series of car burglaries raised concerns for residents in that area.
Police Chief Ed Hudak said the use of the security firm is a temporary measure, that they won’t replace police officers and are also not meant to be neighborhood safety aides, who are put through specific training and are an extension of the police department.
“It’s not the ultimate, we want someone who can respond, but it’s a stop-gap measure,” Hudak said. “I’m comfortable with it in the short term.”
So far the city has hired two neighborhood safety aides with plans to hire two more and potentially expand the program into other neighborhoods.
Molina briefly served as interim police chief in September 2014 before Hudak was appointed.