Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert promised in his state of the city address on Tuesday that officials are refocusing the efforts of the police department to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect between officers and residents. That is a welcome start to put behind them the department’s shameful behavior over the last few years.
Reports by The Miami Herald and, more recently, the online publication Fusion, have painted an ugly picture of what passed for policing in the past few years. Fusion found that some 65,000 residents were stopped for being “suspicious,” one being 5 years old and another being 99 years old. One unidentified officer told the publication that department officials gave orders for quotas to be met and that all black males between 15 and 30 should be stopped.
It is incredible that any of this could happen in a city where three of every four of the 110,000 residents are black, the mayor and city council members are black and the police chief is black.
Mr. Gilbert cannot escape at least some of the blame because he was elected to office in 2012 and police abuse of power appears to have continued up to at least 2013.
But Miami Gardens does not have a strong-mayor form of government so the city council collectively must share the blame for policing that was wholly inexcusable. The council members must rally behind the mayor in his stated determination to return the department to the traditional role of the police: protection and service.
Just how the scandal was allowed to happen is not clear. There is no reason to believe that putting the entire city in virtual lockdown has made any appreciable dent in its reputation as one of most crime-prone municipalities in the country. And even then it would not have justified the undeclared state of emergency which apparently was in place.
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that, according to the Fusion story, the federal government provided Miami Gardens with 15 federal grants to help pay for overtime police work in pursuit of its zero tolerance policy. With Fusion reporting that there was extensive falsification and duplication of field contact reports filed by officers, policing probably became a game of numbers to keep the dollars flowing.
It is surprising, anyhow, that there is no evidence now that the federal government questioned why police stopped some 65,000 people without charging any of them.
It can only be hoped that the harassment of residents has ended. But Mayor Gilbert missed a great opportunity to advance the healing process by apologizing for the fact that it was allowed to happen in the first place.