The scam is relatively simple: Police add their names to arrest reports, even when they've done little or no police work. Their police pals arrive on the scene; suddenly they're witnesses. Prosecutors use the arrest reports to generate subpoena lists. No one screens to see if the cops are necessary.
It's called Collars for Dollars. "You can track that to the overtime system, " said Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Barreto. "You make a collar. You end up in court."
Most of the abuse occurs on the midnight shifts, particularly in drunk driving arrests, since they often occur at night. The midnight officers get overtime when they go to court during the day. Under union rules, most police get three hours minimum -- at time and a half -- for every court appearance.
As a rule, prosecutors need the testimony of only three officers to make a DUI case: the cop who saw the driver behind the wheel; the cop who gave a roadside sobriety test, a skill taught to every graduate of the Police Academy; and the cop who administered a breath-alcohol test, which requires special training.
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But Collars for Dollars cops often split up the tests among their friends. Officers who show up at the scene as backup hang around to watch the roadside test. Other officers sign required paperwork. Soon, there can be as many as 13 officers listed as witnesses.
"If they're calling a buddy in even though they're qualified to do the breath test, just to say, 'Let's spread it all out, ' that's unnecessary, " said Metro-Dade Sgt. Jose Zarraga.
Despite department rules that ban officers from needlessly signing on to cases, punishment is rare.