Thursday, December 16, 2010

Miami's police chiefs: a troubled history

Miami mayor Tomas Regalado stands behind 
his man, Chief Miguel Exposito.

Miguel Exposito is learning the hard way that the job of being Miami's top cop is not for anyone who cherishes job security or a stress-free work environment.

In the the year he's been on the job he's also undoubtedly learned that the constant scrutiny and second guessing from the politicians at city hall can be just as oppressive as a Miami summer.

The Miami Herald's Chuck Rabin reported Sunday that Exposito "is the subject of growing speculation about his job security, after a first year that included four fatal shootings by officers, a videotape of police punching a man several times while he's pinned down, a botched attempt to control an unruly crowd and some anti-corruption investigations that fizzled."

Exposito runs a department with a checkered past.

In the fifties Miami cops were accused of being soft on gambling and bookmakers.

In Dec. 1967, Chief Walter Headley, frustrated by a week of violence, gained national attention by threatening to send his cops into high crime areas with police dogs and shotguns.

In the eighties it was hard to tell the drug dealers from the Miami cops.

In the nineties there was more corruption and the high-profile case of cops shooting unarmed suspects and then planting guns and orchestrating cover-ups.

Last August, following four fatal shootings by Miami police over a six-week period, the Herald reported that some wondered "if police under new Chief Miguel Exposito have become overly aggressive."

Miami mayor Tomas Regalado appeared to back Exposito.

"Regalado," the Herald reported, "began showing up at crime scenes with promises to ''take back the streets,'' by flooding those neighborhoods with cops. At one point, he raised eyebrows by challenging the well-armed gangs he believes responsible for several incidents, saying: ''We are going to respond to violence with violence.''

But that was then and this is now. Three months later, Regalado appears to be backing off in his support of the chief.

``It's all on Exposito,'' Mayor Tomás Regalado said, referring to police chief Miguel Exposito and the problems on his watch," the Herald reported Sunday.

If Exposito gets to keep hs job he'll almost certainly be in for more turbulence.

And if he goes, he'll just be the latest in a long line of Miami police chiefs to get swept up in Miami city politics.

In 1988 the Miami Herald compiled a list of 12 police chiefs that had served Miami since 1928. The Herald wrote that "politics played some part in the resignations or firing of eight of them."

CLARENCE DICKSON [first black police chief,] 1985-88. Resigned, saying he was "frustrated with the antics of the City Commission." ["I just didn't want to work for the City Commission anymore," said Dickson. "They didn't like me and I wasn't crazy about them."]

HERBERT BRESLOW, 1984-85. Resigned amid rumors he would be fired. Closely identified with former City Manager Howard Gary, Breslow's main foe was ex-Commissioner Joe Carollo, who didn't like Gary. [According to the Herald: "Breslow was chief less than a year, the shortest tenure ever in that post. He became chief at 2:47 a.m. Jan. 27, 1984, when former City Manager Howard Gary fired Harms. Breslow resigned Jan. 2, 1985, amid rumors he was headed for a similar fate." ]

KENNETH T. HARMS, 1978-84. Fired in a 2:47 a.m. phone call by City Manager Gary, the climax of a long feud between the two. Harms believed Gary was interfering in his department; Gary said the chief didn't follow orders. Gary was fired by commissioners nine months later.

GARLAND P. WATKINS, 1975-78. Unexpectedly resigned to move to Tennessee. He would not elaborate on his reasons for leaving and denied reports of a rift with City Manager Joseph Grassie. Watkins had been unhappy about forced layoffs and budget cuts.

BERNARD L. GARMIRE, 1969-74. Resigned under pressure after a series of City Commission inquiries and a Dade grand jury report criticized morale in the police department. Garmire's resignation followed a year of confrontation with Mayor Maurice Ferre.

WALTER E. HEADLEY, 1948-68. Died in office. He had a running battle with Mayors Abe Abronovitz and Robert King High, but the Florida Supreme Court, in a lawsuit involving Headley, ruled he could not be fired unless specific charges were brought up.

FRANK MITCHELL, 1946-48. Resigned after City Manager R.G. Danner was ousted by the City Commission. "I refuse to stay and see it torn down," he said of his department.

CHARLES O. NELSON, 1944-46. Forced to resign by City Manager Danner, who was not pleased with gambling in the city. Danner wanted the police department to eliminate all gambling.

HOWARD LESLIE QUIGG, 1921-28 and 1937-44. Twice fired; in 1928 after a grand jury indictment in a police shooting and in 1944 after he refused to follow City Manager A.B. Curry's order to quell a strike by Miami Transit bus drivers.

JOHN B. ROWLAND, 1936-37. Forced out of office by city administrators who wanted to replace Rowland with Quigg . Rowland was named a deputy sheriff.

GUY C. REEVE, 1928-33 and S. D. McCREARY, 1933-36, also were police chiefs. Existing records do not show why they left.
In the 22 years since that list was compiled by the Herald, eight more have headed the Miami police department.

PERRY ANDERSON Jr., 1988-1991.

CALVIN ROSS, 1991-1994.

DONALD WARSHAW, 1994 -1998. Resigned to become Miami city manager.

WILLIAM O'BRIEN, 1998 - 2000. Resigned April 28, 2000 in the wake of the political fallout over the seizure of Elian Gonzalez. ``I refuse to be chief of police when someone as divisive and destructive as Joe Carollo is mayor,'' O'Brien said.

RAUL MARTINEZ, 2000 - 2003. Martinez, the Herald reported at the time, "was one of several targets in a failed 1980s federal corruption probe of Miami Police that included allegations he helped destroy evidence against drug smugglers, shared bribes, and skimmed cash and drugs from seizures, according to FBI documents."

"Several Miami Police Department veterans and federal law enforcement agents expressed surprise at Martinez 's appointment last week, noting that it was well known Martinez had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before a federal grand jury. in 1984," reported the Herald.

Two and a half years later, Martinez resigned as chief. From the Herald: "His resignation came just two days after a Herald series that documented dozens of questionable shootings involving Miami police officers over the last decade."

Martinez was replaced by outsider John Timoney, who had gained a reputation as a tough cop on the mean streets of Philadelphia and New York. Timoney took over reins of the department in Jan. 2003.

In interviews with the Herald Timoney "referred to himself repeatedly as an expert on the police use of 'deadly physical force.'"

"He said some Miami officers have been involved in 'too many' deadly police shootings during the past decade, adding that officers constantly involved in shootings should be reassigned 'for their own good, and for the good of the public.' "

But despite the fact that the department under Timoney went almost two years without an officer firing a gun, his tenure was not without controversy.

In 2007 he came under fire after it was learned that he had been given free use of a Lexus.

But that paled in comparison to charges that his department had trampled the rights of demonstrators during the FTAA demonstrations in 2003.

Timoney lasted almost 6 years.

In Nov. 2009, "Timoney announced his resignation just as [newly elected mayor Tomas] Regalado stood among hundreds of supporters on the dais at City Hall for his swearing-in," wrote Rabin.

So, will Exposito stay or go?

Exposito, who is 56, has been with the department for 36 years. At some point he may just decide that he's had enough - and like Clarence Dickson in 1988 or Bill O'Brien in 2000 - tell the suits at city hall to "take this job and shove it."

If that happens, the city will start a search for his successor.

But before anyone decides they'd like to be the next Miami police chief, they'd do well to read up on some history.