Local 10: Civilian oversight of police one step closer in Miami-Dade

The Miami-Dade Commission voted 9-4 Tuesday in favor of resurrecting a civilian oversight panel for when police are accused of wrongdoing.

After passing that first vote, details including funding and the composition of the panel will need to be ironed out before a second vote could put it into law.

A civilian panel had been in place in the county years ago but was defunded.

“It’s the bad apples that we want to get, that we want to get rid of,” Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who sponsored the idea of the panel, said last week. “We want to make sure that there are policies in place that … would hold them accountable.”

Commissioners voting to advance the plan were: Jordan, Daniella Levine Cava, Audrey Edmonson, Sally Heyman, Eileen Higgins, Jean Monestime, Dennis Moss, Rebeca Sosa and Xavier Suarez.

Voting against: Steve Bovo, Pepe Diaz, Joe Martinez and Javier Souto.

Public comments Tuesday were been largely in favor of civilian oversight, though mindful that Miami-Dade is not Minneapolis, and recognizing the county’s police force for its community-minded approach.

In the plan advanced Tuesday, county commissioners will pick panel members with input from the community.

The funding for the panel will be no less than one percent of the police department budget, but the source of the funding is still unclear.

Commissioners received a letter from the President of the South Florida Police Benevolent Association opposing any move to defund or reallocate the police department budget.

“It has been put out there that this item is taking money from the police department, and it is not,” Jordan said. “I just wanted to clear that up.”

The power of civilian oversight is tested regularly, and one example it the City of Miami‘s Civilian Investigative Panel.

As the county commissioners met, Miami CIP member Steve Navarette tweeted: “… we need full subpoena power, at least one more investigator and an analyst, and the Chief Mayor to take actions on recommendations”.

Florida law gives accused law enforcement officers broad rights, including the choice to refuse interviews.

“Although sometimes police departments don’t listen, oftentimes they do reopen cases and oftentimes they do discipline officers,” said Rodney Jacobs, Assistant Director of Miami’s CIP. “ We try to do our best with the tools that we have and our powers.

“The reason why police chiefs may not listen to our recommendations rest in state law, so I urge people to look at those issues and take it to their elected leaders,” he added.

Miami-Dade’s police director Freddy Ramirez said Sunday on Local 10′s “This Week in South Florida” that he wants to ensure his officers are represented and protected.

“If it’s the will of the community and the will of the board to impose a civilian review panel, what I ask is that it’s fair and representative of not only members of the community, but also law enforcement,” Ramirez said. “Because I don’t want my officers to be put in a ‘gotcha’ moment, or to be exploited.”

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