Politics: Straight Outta Wonderland

By Jeffrey Bradley

Is the Miami Beach Police Department in free fall? It sure seems like they’ve gone headfirst down the rabbit hole. Fact is, if Johnny Depp was eating a crispy creme at Dunkin’ Donuts dressed as a Miami Beach cop, we couldn’t be more surprised.

“Disorderly Conduct,” an article in the March 25 Miami New Times, details a bizarre trail of mayhem, impropriety and nutty conduct that provides a harrowing peek behind the blue curtain down at Rocky Pomerantz Plaza. Actually, we haven’t found something this disturbing since that old Twilight Zone episode where the twisty pig-faced mutants were the norm and the beautiful people the outcasts (“Doctor, please, please, help me!”). Freaky.

Reading the article, we could almost hear ominous background drumming as the deplorable infractions kept surfacing like weird fish from abyssal depths. It makes you wonder what the person who cries “Help! Police!!” really means.

And while policing is no easy job, still…

The disturbing reports rumbling out of Beach Police headquarters for years have now gone critical mass; we’ve become the butt of late-night TV, and suddenly got the Big Bang of scandals. So how do we go about piercing the Blue Wall of Silence? Do we want to?

In über spin mode and desperately playing catchup by tamping down the coverups, suspensions and internal investigations, the department displays all the frantic momentum of a kicked anthill. And there’s no telling what deplorable scandals still lurk in the pipeline.

We pay the police to interface with the bad guys, not become black hats themselves. Yet here are stories of menaced citizens jailed because of the “crime” of observing rogue cops doing nefarious deeds — cops who respond, in a move both bogus and brazen, with concocted charges, intimidation and infamy. Many also rack up scads of questionable overtime on the taxpayer dime or otherwise manipulate the system in ways that, if done by any of us, would surely bring these very cops down on our heads!

And what does the department have to say of the beatings, harassment and brownshirtism that’ve got nearly every “community’s’” nose out of joint? “I thought we had a great relationship,” said Police Chief Noriega. (The chief recently took medical leave and may or may not be back —oddly enough!)

Who knew?

It’s this entitlement mindset that really sets the distress flares rocketing into the night.

The New Times investigation revealed several disturbing patterns:

“Time after time a blind eye is turned to egregious behavior before actually rewarding it. Offending officers are only given the boot when their behavior crosses the red zone into outright embarrassment — then depart with a nice fat severance check (money that should be withheld to punish moral turpitude or something equally deplorable).
Fifty percent of police officers make six figures a year — so why is the crime “close rate” hovering at an abysmal 15 percent?”

So, despite the reprimands, drug use and loutish behavior, these loose cannons still deserve additional remuneration? We hope when they accept these checks they’re walking backwards because they can’t look the man in the eye.

And what has the city to say about the piles of ducats being doled out like candy? “I certainly didn’t realize our police officers were making so much money,” said Mayor Matti Bower. How could she not? She’s the mayor.

Let’s not even discuss their political arm, for whose “endorsement” commissioner-candidates mouth the words “I support all your demands.” And the SWAT, er, negotiating team brings the same hardball tactics to the bargaining table that it brings to the streets. Why not? It works! They may threaten a walk-out — who wants to see thugs with guns (the bad guys, we mean, not the cops) ruling the streets? — but wouldn’t it just be easier to lay their guns down on the table as they pull up a chair? Makes the same point minus the histrionics.

And what does the state have to say? “Who wants to piss off a cop?” asked Florida State Rep. Juan Zapata.

Yeah, who?

A tough job description hardly seems to justify the beyond-lucrative contract negotiated over the years (the city again giving away the farm). Various commissions not only acquiesced to nearly all demands put forth by this I-me-mine mentality but threw in a few perks to boot. Our favorite? That “me too” clause guaranteeing that however the firefighters union ups the ante in contract goodies, the same automatically devolves on the police. (Say, we’ve got a few “me too” codas we’d like considered!) For a town that can’t provide shade trees or public transportation and wrings its hands over the “high cost” of painting some white lines on the street as “bicycle lanes,” they sure are quick to bust the budget by shoveling sweetheart deals to rapacious unions.

Unfortunately, all this greed will cost us. No doubt the city will be creative finding ways to spread the pain around. What services do you think should be cut so police officers can keep every benefit, no matter how wasteful, expensive or self-serving? Listen, we’ll make book that the most they concede are a few minor tweaks, or some meaningless deferral; otherwise, nada. What do they care? They’ll negotiate using the Chinese menu approach, but instead of a little from column A and a little from column B they’ll, you know, take it all.

So there you have it. Maybe the troubles stem from the fact that officers don’t consider themselves public servants but enforcers of the law. As such, they display a deepening rift with the community and misconduct that’s slow to be punished. It seems a closed system, buttressed by ramparts of disreality and walls of warped values; essentially, it’s a collection of rich men with issues. And a gun and a badge and a license to use them.

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