Crime

A proper salute? Police command staff, union chief differ over flag pledge

Anita M. Najiy, Assistant Chief of Police, City of Miami Police congratulates Jorge R. Colina as Assistant Chief of Police during the promotions of seven executive staff members for the City of Miami Police on Friday, April 17, 2015.
Anita M. Najiy, Assistant Chief of Police, City of Miami Police congratulates Jorge R. Colina as Assistant Chief of Police during the promotions of seven executive staff members for the City of Miami Police on Friday, April 17, 2015. Miami Herald Staff

For 14 seconds last week, the highest ranking black female in the Miami Police Department stood at attention, arms at her side, as the city’s four other top command staffers covered their hearts during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Assistant Chief Anita Najiy did what she was required to do according to U.S. Military Code, say police department leaders.

Still, she’s being eviscerated by the city’s outspoken police union president, who rarely misses an opportunity to blast the administration and even more rarely misses a chance to express his patriotism.

Fraternal Order of Police President Javier Ortiz wants Najiy reprimanded for not saluting the flag or covering her heart during the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Since she clearly has no respect for the flag or the United States, on behalf of the Fraternal Order of Police, I am requesting that Assistant Chief Najiy is removed as the commander of the MPD Honor Guard Detail,” Ortiz said in a letter Monday to Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes.

That’s not likely to happen. Though the police department’s code of conduct allows for a reprimand if an officer doesn’t salute the flag, it makes no mention of covering your heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. And not a single member of the command staff standing next to Najiy last week saluted the flag during the ceremony.

Police Maj. Delrish Moss produced a section of the conduct code for U.S. military personnel, which he says supercedes police code. It reads: “When in uniform, indoors, stand at attention, remain silent, and face the flag.”

“That’s exactly what she did,” Moss said. “The Honor Guard follows U.S. military code. She was following U.S. military code. It had nothing to do with personal beliefs.”

Najiy did not respond to an interview request Tuesday. Neither did Ortiz, who produced a 23-second video showing Najiy at attention during last week’s ceremony, then launched it into the social media biosphere.

Though no one at the police department would directly address the underlying issues, Ortiz made reference to them in a letter to FOP brass.

“If she isn’t loyal to the United States of America, what country is she loyal and shows allegiance to?” he asked.

Several comments on Ortiz’s Facebook page and on police chat sites make reference to Najiy’s religious beliefs. Moss said religion had no bearing on her choice not to salute the flag.

The city’s code of conduct for police officers clearly states that an officer in uniform, unless engaged in police duties, “will face the approaching flag and render a sharp military salute. Members in civilian clothes will stand at attention, holding right hand over left breast.”

The issue surfaced last week during a promotional ceremony at the police department’s College of Policing in which seven officers were added to the chief’s command staff. The event featured the city’s Honor Guard, which Najiy oversees.

Ortiz, seated near the front row during the hour-long ceremony, produced a 23-second video that shows Llanes, City Manager Daniel Alfonso, Deputy Chief Luis Cabrera and Assistant Chief Jorge Gomez standing next to Najiy — all but her with hand over heart.

None of them saluted the flag during the Honor Guard procession. Ortiz posted the video on his Facebook page and sent it out in mass email blasts.

The union chief often uses Facebook to boldly express opinions. He also fills his Facebook page with pictures of himself and friends on bike rides for charitable causes. It’s also filled with references of support for officers who committed questionable acts. He went to Ferguson, Missouri, to support officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot unarmed Michael Brown. And he was in New York City to support two officers who were killed.

In one Facebook post, Ortiz showed pictures of a night-time bust, with this caption: “During the day the public and the media attempts to destroy our image and what we as law enforcement stand for. Yet while the world sleeps, our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line for those that don’t appreciate them.”

Still, picking on the highest ranking female in Miami Police Department history isn’t likely to yield results for Ortiz.

Najiy’s promotion a year ago to assistant chief was hailed as “one of the most memorable days in the history of the police department,” by then-Chief Manuel Orosa, who promoted her.

She is a 32-year veteran with a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in national security affairs. She has worked in the chief’s office, patrol and in field operations. She was the Overtown Neighborhood Enhancement Team commander.

Last month, Najiy led cops and community leaders on a door-to-door walk through Overtown in search of answers to the still-unsolved shooting deaths of 10-year-old Marlon Eason and 16-year-old Booker T. Washington student Richard Hallman.

Moss said that since an official complaint has been filed, it will be investigated.

“She’s a very good, experienced, and misunderstood cop, “Moss said, “who was simply following protocol.”

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