Miami-Dade County

Appeals court backs Inspector General in police probes

An appeals court ruled this week that Miami-Dade’s investigative arm is free to look broadly into police activities, reversing a lower court’s order involving a 2009 probe into training trips to Panama by county police brass.

The ruling by the Third District Court of Appeal overturns a favorable ruling the county’s police union won against the Miami-Dade County Office of the Inspector General. At issue was a 2009 investigation into lucrative consulting work in Panama by senior police officials and a top aide to then-mayor Carlos Alvarez. Disclosed by The Miami Herald, the consulting work sparked an OIG investigation and report urging a crackdown in outside-employment practices.

The Police Benevolent Association union filed suit, claiming the OIG could not investigate police conduct, since state law names the county police department as the only agency that can investigate its officers. A trial court agreed, and ordered the OIG to remove its critical report from its website.

In its decision, the Third DCA drew a distinction between police disciplinary probes and the “independent, external investigations conducted by outside entities for the purposes of setting and enforcing policy or for determining best practices.” In a statement, the police union said Tuesday it was “encouraged” by the DCA agreeing that only the police agency could investigate “issues that could lead to discipline.”