The city of Miami’s Civilian Investigative Panel has fallen so far from the ideal of being a vigilant police watchdog that its very future is in jeopardy. If it cannot live up to its mission as the independent overseer that acts on behalf of aggrieved residents — and to help protect law enforcement, too — then city leaders, CIP advocates and the taxpaying residents have every right to question whether it should exist at all. However, it should. It’s an important civic agency.
Monday, the Miami City Commission is scheduled to hear the final report of an Independent Review Committee appointed to get to the bottom of what’s wrong — and there’s a lot that’s wrong. In too many instances, the CIP has done a disservice to residents — who have relied on it to be their advocate for responsible policing, and pursue what might have been unethical conduct or downright criminal behavior by rogue officers in the city’s police department.
But the CIP has been anything but the community salve envisioned when city residents, wary of police misconduct, voted to create it in 2002. At the time, the city was reeling from a one-two-three punch of suspicious police shootings, throwdown guns and officers lying to grand juries. Twelve years later, a Herald/WLRN review found a deep well of failures:
▪ The CIP has just one investigator, down from three. For an agency that can receive up to 400 cases to investigate every year, this has left it unable to do its job in anything close to a timely manner. In fact, about half of the cases have been closed without an investigation.
▪ With one investigator, most cases cannot possibly be resolved within the 120-day deadline, a time limit would seem ridiculously constraining even if the agency were a smoothly running machine, which it isn’t.
▪ Staff relations are a mess, with the board pointing the finger of blame at the CIP’s independent counsel, Charles Mays. Both his legal advice and his allegiance to the CIP — as opposed to the city of Miami, which pays him — have been questioned. For instance, one CIP advocate has said that Mr. Mays told panel members that they could not initiate investigations into any of the seven police shootings that occurred in rapid succession a few years ago — shootings that brought the wrath of the U.S. Department of Justice down on the department. Board members dispute that contention.
What once made the CIP a model for communities across the country is that it wields subpoena power, the ability to bring officers, witnesses, just about anyone before it. It’s serious muscle, but one that has not been flexed since 2009. It’s not so much misusing its power so much as squandering it. In the meantime, families looking for answers, for closure, get neither.
The CIP’s board of volunteers wants to pay Mr. Mays $175,000 to step down. Mr. Mays says that he has done nothing wrong and has served the CIP well. Indeed, a draft of the Internal Review Committee report, which will be presented Monday to the City Commission, finds little, if anything, for which Mr. Mays is to blame. However, there is this telling nudge, among its other recommendations: “If Mr. Mays, in his wisdom and unselfish manner, chooses to separate from the CIP and leave the City, it would be a correct decision.” Don’t have to read between the lines here.
Despite the independence of the CIP, the city of Miami, which holds its purse strings, should ensure that whatever means necessary are expended to make the CIP the effective and efficient agency it is supposed to be. Anything less is a waste of money and good intentions.