remaining in position: the barriers to extracting power
all power is not held with good intention, your Friday long read from POLITICO
We go to POLITICO for this week's long read by Marc Caputo. Read the whole story, “How Do Bad Cops Stay in Power? Just Look at Miami.” We include key excerpts below to convince you it’s worth your time!
Clinging to position of power
In a police department with a history of brutality, Captain Javier Ortiz holds a special distinction as Miami’s least-fireable man with a badge, a gun and a staggering history of citizen complaints for beatings, false arrests and bullying.
Over his 17 years on the job — including eight as the union president of the Fraternal Order of Police in South Florida — 49 people have complained about him to Internal Affairs as he amassed 19 official use-of-force incidents, $600,000 in lawsuit settlements and a book’s worth of terrible headlines related to his record and his racially inflammatory social media posts, many of which attacked alleged victims of police violence.
Yet Ortiz has repeatedly beaten back attempts to discipline him. He returned to work in March from a yearlong paid suspension during which state and federal investigators examined whether he “engaged in a pattern of abuse and bias against minorities, particularly African Americans … [and] has been known for cyber-stalking and doxing civilians who question his authority or file complaints against him.” The investigation was launched after three Miami police sergeants accused him of abusing his position and said the department had repeatedly botched investigations into him.
But investigators concluded their hands were tied because 13 of the 19 use-of-force complaints were beyond the five-year statute of limitations, and the others lacked enough hard evidence beyond the assertions of the alleged victims. The findings underscored a truism in many urban police departments: The most troublesome cops are so insulated by protective union contracts and laws passed by politicians who are eager to advertise their law-and-order bona fides that removing them is nearly impossible — even when their own colleagues are witnesses against them.
As a police officer with an encyclopedic knowledge of labor law and grievance procedures, Ortiz shielded himself over the years with the extensive protections woven into the local union’s collective bargaining agreement and Florida’s “Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights,” a police-friendly law that passed decades ago and has been continuously beefed up with bipartisan support. He has also availed himself of a controversial judicial doctrine, called qualified immunity, which shields police from certain forms of liability.
Among the special provisions that have made policing Florida’s police so difficult is a rule in the bill of rights that says all investigations must be wrapped up in 180 days. Critics say the rule is a vehicle for sympathetic colleagues to protect an officer simply by dragging their feet. In its review of Ortiz, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported that between 2013 and 2018 seven citizen complaints against him were voided because the department failed to finish investigating within the prescribed time limit.
An even more significant obstacle in the bill of rights is a rule that officers must be shown all evidence against them before they are interviewed about complaints — a right that isn’t afforded to civilians and that flies in the face of normal investigative techniques. It allows officers to tailor their responses to the evidence, avoid being caught in lies and even, says former Miami police chief Art Acevedo, “interfere with the investigation or retaliate” against witnesses.
Upon taking over the department last March, Acevedo reviewed Ortiz’s record and determined that the rules protected him. “Unfortunately — and fortunately for him [Ortiz] — I could take no action,” Acevedo says.
“The problem is he has made political connections through the years. And in Miami, everything is connected,” Garcia says. “There are a lot of backdoor deals, lots of friendships people aren’t aware of where people think others are enemies but secretly they’re friends.”
On that count, Acevedo agrees.
“This place is like ‘Game of Thrones,’” Acevedo says, marveling at the backstabbing and crisscrossing agendas in the police department and City Hall.
Within days of returning to active duty, Ortiz soon became involved in a new spate of controversies and has even taken on the FOP by launching a state-sanctioned process to collect enough votes from officers to form a new union connected to the Police Benevolent Association. He and the FOP’s current president, Reyes, have traded videos swiping at each other.
Reyes told union members that Ortiz “has done nothing in the past three years but been disloyal to our Lodge, bring discredit to our lodge, embarrass us by going and making national news, making memes out of himself.”
Ortiz responded that “I’m far from being a coward.” He said 153 officers have joined his move to leave the FOP because “people want representation. They want professional representation.”
Read the whole article here.
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