Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Firing an Arby’s worker a lot easier than jettisoning a cop

In the last three months, the Pembroke Pines Police Department website has issued just eight press releases.

The Pines police alerted the media about a premeditated murder, a shooting death, two armed robberies, a fatal traffic accident, an incident involving sexual molestation, a case involving animal cruelty.

And, of course, the infamous Arby’s slight. “The Pembroke Pines Police Department was made aware of an incident that occurred on the evening of 09-01-2015 where one of our uniformed officers was denied service at a local Arby’s due to being a police officer.”

As it turned out, the incident was not quite a denial of service, but rather a suggestion of a denial of service. The Arby’s employee involved has since claimed to have been indulging in some lame attempt at humor amid the hubbub that evening at the drive-by window. The police officer was not amused. When she finally received her order, she returned the food; demanded and received a refund. The police officer, in Offense Report PPPD15OFF058698, said the incident had made her “extremely uncomfortable.”

Perhaps an insult. Perhaps a joke. Either way, this would seem an insignificant encounter. Yet the story reverberated across the Internet. Somehow, Offense PPPD15OFF058698 morphed into a corollary of the rising tensions and sometimes violent confrontations between local police agencies and communities that don’t much resemble prosperous, middle-class Pembroke Pines. As I noted, this is a suburban town that has generated just eight incidents worthy of a police department press release since June 1. This is not Miami Gardens or Liberty City or Baltimore or New York City or Chicago or Ferguson, Missouri.

Never mind that. Amid America’s cultural and political discord, a rude remark attributed to a 22-year-old shift manager and a 19-year-old fast-food worker gets portrayed as another salvo in the war against police, conservative values, law and order, white America and so on. There were calls across social media for a national boycott of Arby’s, as if the Pembroke Pines dust-up reflected corporate policy. A group of women and children demonstrated in front of the Pines Boulevard restaurant Thursday with a protest sign declaring “police lives matter,” equating a spat over an Arby’s meal to a death threat against law enforcement.

Arby’s, of course, reacted. The CEO issued an apology to the Pembroke Pines PD. All day Friday, uniformed officers were offered free combo meals at any Arby’s in Broward or Miami-Dade County.

John Rivera, the president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, called for a boycott of Arby’s until guilty employees were fired. Arby’s did just that. The shift manager was fired. According to the Sun Sentinel, the teenager was suspended indefinitely, which probably equates to forever in the fast-food biz.

Of course, calling for the termination of someone — at least someone who is not an police chief or a mayor not amenable to the demands of the PBA — was jarring coming from Rivera, whose union regularly fights to reinstate police officers dismissed for rather more egregious behavior than the Arby’s incident.

Let me quote, instead, Jeff Marano, president of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association.“It’s not a career-ender. Did he do something silly? Yeah, but you don’t execute a person for that.”

Oh, sorry. My mistake. Marano was not referring to the young Arby’s workers fired last week. No, that was Marano in 2014 defending the job of another clown, a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy who had driven his patrol car, with two drunken civilian friends aboard, one passed out in the back seat, down Las Olas Boulevard and through the Himmarshee Village entertainment district. All the while, the deputy’s friend was using the patrol car loudspeaker to direct salacious remarks toward female pedestrians along the way.

Marano argued to save that jokester’s job. He was not so forgiving of the Arby’s transgressors. He issued a statement last week declaring, “This behavior is unacceptable.”

The Broward PBA president saw the imbroglio over fast food as only more evidence of “the disdain and lack of respect for law enforcement, as well as the fatal attacks on the men and women in uniform in America.”

Of course, like others wrongs committed in the culture wars, Marano blamed the Arby’s misunderstanding on a “lack of leadership — starting with our commander in chief, President Barack Obama.”

But it only took a single day to terminate Obama’s co-conspirators at Arby’s. No hearing. No appeal. No arbitrator. No union lawyer to argue their cause.

Marano and Rivera, in their demand for the heads, and quickly, of a couple of young underpaid workers in the service industry, were utterly bereft of any sense of irony. Both are famous defenders of bad eggs. So long as they’re wearing a badge.

And it’s notoriously difficult to get rid of problematic police officers in South Florida.

In June, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper was reinstated after his superiors fired him for failing to render first aid to a traffic accident victim in the Keys. “Your continued employment with the Florida Highway Patrol would put the public at risk,” his bosses had said. Except he’s back on the job.

In May, an arbitrator ordered the Fort Myers Police Department to reinstate a cop fired for using excessive force during a traffic stop. Sarasota police had to rehire an officer who had been caught on surveillance video beating, choking and cursing a drunken nightclub patron. In Palm Coast, a deputy sheriff, who was terminated for using state databases to go after both his ex-wife and his political enemies, got his job back.

Last year, a Miami Beach police officer who had been fired after testing positive for cocaine was reinstated and awarded back pay after he told an arbitrator that he had unknowingly absorbed the illegal drug into his blood when he applied an erection-enhancing cream to his genitals. In 2012, arbitrators reinstated two Miami Beach police officers who had been fired for the brutal, unprovoked beating of two gay men. Another officer, a sergeant, was reinstated despite obvious supervisory failures the night one of his drunken officers went on a mad drive down the beach in the department’s ATV, a woman passenger clinging to his back, and drove over two pedestrians. Another Beach police officer was reinstated after he had been fired for his part in an fake overtime scam.

The difficulty in firing South Florida police officers was epitomized by Opa-locka police Sgt. German Bosque, who, until he was convicted last year for false imprisonment, had kept his job despite more than 40 misconduct complaints. Five times, before his conviction, he had been fired, and five times, with help from his union, he managed to get himself reinstated.

In 2013, incoming Broward Sheriff Scott Israel infuriated predecessor Al Lamberti by rehiring several deputies the former sheriff had fired for cause and whose terminations had been upheld by arbitrators or judges, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

“This is safety and life and death,” Lamberti complained. “You have to earn the public trust. It’s not a fast-food restaurant where you can say, ‘You know what, I'm going to give you another chance.’”

A couple of fast-food restaurant workers in Pembroke Pines might beg to differ.