An Internal Affairs/Public Corruption Unit of the City of Miami Beach Police Department is Being Tested for Eventual Approval.
The Miami Beach Police Department is responding to the public perception that the city’s government has been pervaded by criminal and moral corruption for many years, and that its entrenched bureaucracy has been unwilling or unable to diligently and adequately investigate all complaints filed and report criminal and administrative misconduct to prosecutors and administrators responsible for disciplining public officials and employees.
The Police Department is tentatively expanding the scope of its Internal Affairs investigations of police personnel to all city personnel, including the rank and file, administrators, and elected officials. The trial Internal Affairs/Public Corruption Unit is commanded by Capt. Gary Shimminger and Deputy Commander John Buhrmaster.
“We were lucky to get these two to head the unit,” said Assistant Chief of Police Mark Overton, former Chief of Police of the City of Hialeah. “They really complement each other, and their expertise is unparalleled.”
Shimminger, with over 31 years in law enforcement, recently retired from the Miami-Dade Police Department as the major in charge of its Internal Affairs Unit, which was responsible for handling 1,000 cases or more each year. He said he had a total of 70 personnel, including 55 sergeants/investigators, handling complaints against county police officers. The City of Miami Beach averages about 60 criminal and administrative misconduct complaints filed each year, currently investigated by 6 sergeants. He said the unit will need at least three more investigators to make headway with the new program when it is approved.
Buhrmaster retired from the City of Miami Police Department in 2012 with 38 years of law enforcement under his belt, 25 of those years in the homicide unit and 10 of those as its commander. He received numerous commendations and medals for his work and is accurately described as a “legendary” homicide detective. He took an interest in management early on and obtained degrees from Barry University and St. Thomas University.
Overton, when asked why the Public Corruption Unit would investigate, for example, complaints against Building Department employees for negligence, he said that negligence might very well involve corruption, but if none were found, a public record report would be generated which can be a basis for disciplining the employees. Even where there is no negligence, the reports may be useful to administrators for fashioning policies and to legislators for forging remedies.
It appears that such a process would indeed extend the normal function of Internal Affairs over all departments of government. Policing policies are tailored to the needs of communities, but an Internal Affairs agency, whether or not independent of its police force, commonly investigates all complaints where serious misconduct may be involved whether there is evidence of criminality or not, including administrative issues that might expose a department to legal liability if neglected.
In Florida, the Office of the Inspector General may provide a facility to investigate and report on maladministration of a city, but the agency’s Miami-Dade County inspector declined to do so for the City of Miami Beach, in a letter to a city attorney dated Feb. 20, 2013, because of its “current and foreseeable workload commitments.”
“The new Public Corruption Unit, if approved,” Shimminger said, “will address non-sworn departmental personnel, as well as city employees. These could entail long term pro-active investigations, and do not need to be sergeants; their rank could be classified as a detective, supervised by a sergeant. ”
As for complaints filed against the police chief or the assistant police chief or the head of the Internal Affairs/Public Corruption Unit, he said that, “If the deputy chief or chief or I receive a valid complaint, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will be contacted to investigate the complaint.”
“All investigations will be addressed and investigated thoroughly, no matter how minor,” he responded when asked if incidents of all types would get the same attention as major crime investigations, even those that police departments around the country are accused of dismissing offhand as “dog poop.”
City officials including police officials are often dogged by chronic complainers, yet the best practice of any Internal Affairs unit is to consolidate duplications and investigate every complaint, since the chronic complaint may be chronic because of chronic abuse.
Miami Beach officials are frequently accused of simply ignoring complaints, and even retaliating against individuals who make them, which is absolutely prohibited by Internal Affairs policy. The best Internal Affairs practice is to conduct regular compliance audits: “professional complainers,” persons similar to “professional shoppers” in the private sector, are engaged to file complaints, interact with investigators, and report back to management, those reports being made available to the public.
Nothing is perfect in this life hence there is always room for improvement. Internal Affairs units staffed by police officers throughout the nation have themselves been accused of negligence and corruption including political manipulation by mayors, commissioners, city managers, city attorneys and the like. Police departments as well as other professional bodies are persistently accused of being unwilling to investigate their own.
Therefore several sorts of remedies have been tried, such as citizens’ boards and review committees, and completely independent investigative bodies staffed by lawyers and trained police investigators. All have demonstrable faults. The compulsory and continuous presence of professional observers or inspectors called “monitors” has been useful in several respects. People perform better when being observed, and observers may notice defects in general procedures and policies that can be corrected.
The main issue is the independence of the police department in its entirety. We usually think of three branches of government. All formal branches are involved in the general policing power of the state, the regulation of behavior for the improvement of public safety, health and morality. The forceful and sometimes deadly power wielded by law enforcement is considered to be an executive function. Yet a police force should be independent of the judicial, executive, and legislative functions while carrying out the will of the people expressed by their government.
That is, the police are the public, and not the servant of a politician, judge, lawmaker, or entrenched bureaucrat. Still, police officers should not pander to public opinion, and should obey and enforce all of the laws, and do so equally, not picking and choosing between violations and violators.
Without the respect of the public, no police department is legitimate nor can it endure for long. That is why respect is so important to police officers: it is the basis of their power, without which they could lose not only their livelihood but their lives.
The City of Miami Beach Police Department was admittedly losing respect. People blamed not only its officers but the feudal system of the entrenched bureaucracy. There is one thing above all that police departments must do to main respect: respond to complaints. The MBPD responded to the swelling complaints, independently of the bureaucracy, and considerable improvements have made.
Internal Affairs usually gets a lot of flak, but it must be remembered that it has in fact investigated Miami Beach officers, and that some officers were suspended and fired, yet several were reinstated by judicial process. In fact, the complaint of complaints of Internal Affairs investigators in this country is that around 90% of their recommendations to prosecute are not prosecuted because prosecutors are unable to get juries to convict because of the prejudices of the jurors and judges.
The Internal Affairs/Public Corruption Unit, now being tested in the City of Miami Beach will be one the improvements the independent police department wants to make. Since it could be given cause to investigate members of the entrenched bureaucracy and the political elite, we shall see if they have the wisdom to provide an adequate budget if the pilot program is productive.