In November, Miami voters affirmed they wanted to give the city’s police review panel greater independence in the city charter. Now city commissioners have to identify a dedicated funding source and amount to ensure the panel will continue to operate.
At its May 13 meeting, the Miami City Commission approved an ordinance that would clarify the duties of the top officers of the Civilian Investigative Panel, and set a formula to fund the agency. The ordinance, sponsored by Commissioner Francis Suarez, passed 4-1 on first reading.
But a key question left unresolved is the funding formula that allows the panel to fully perform its duties.
The ordinance clarifies the duties and responsibilities of the top two employees — independent council and the executive director — and gives commissioners the authority to appoint, or remove them from their positions.
Supporters say the ordinance adds clarity to the structure of the CIP, and more importantly, provides a means to reliable funding that assures the agency remains open. They do not want the CIP to befall a similar fate as the county’s Independent Review Panel, which has not operated for nearly a decade.
The IRP, created in the wake of 1980 riots, was a fully functioning agency with subpoena power. It was designed to monitor and investigate charges of police brutality and other complaints made against county employees.
It was written out of the Miami-Dade budget in the late 2000s after the economic downturn. The IRP has a volunteer board, but no funds to investigate. Several community organizations including the Miami-Dade NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, and People United To Lead The Struggle For Equality urged unsuccessfully for the county to restore the full funding during the 2016 budget negotiations.
At their May 11 meeting, Miami commissioners and the public agreed the city needs a CIP. But they disagreed about the funding level.The ordinance asks the city to provide 0 .05 percent of the annual police department budget. Under the current budget that would come to about $1.2 million, said Suarez, who represents District 4. District 3 Commissioner Frank Carollo expressed “serious reservations” about the funding formula. He said the ordinance doesn’t have accountability measures in place.
“If police gets raises, CIP would get an increase that they may not need,” Corollo said.
Suarez pointed out that the CIP has changed for the better from days when the executive director and the independent counsel did not get along. At its lowest point, the agency came to a halt because of acrimony between the people in the two positions.
Now, Suarez said, the city has fewer complaints against police officers, while the CIP is fully staffed.
District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell, a co-sponsor of the ordinance, said the changes put in place a “system of checks and balances that citizens can take part in.” He argued of the financial independence of the agency.
“These changes accomplish that in my mind, [and] takes much of the politics out of it. The finances can be worked on,” Russell said. “But I believe their duties may increase by the way we hire more officers.”
Miami voters approved the creation of the CIP in 2002, following outcries in the Black community over a rash of incidents between police officers and Black residents. However, shortly after approval, the panel fell into chaos because of disputes between the board, executive director and the CIP counsel. Critics and board members claimed the attorney attempted to stymie their investigations.
A huge problem, critics say, was because the board had to get permission from the city attorney to fire the CIP counsel, which didn’t always happen. Also, critics said the CIP lacked teeth and was crippled by the city’s bureaucracy.
“It lost a lot of potential,” said Rodney Jacobs, a new assistant CIP director. He said director Christina Bermuda has worked to restore confidence in community.
Suarez said the money issue will be resolved.
“Some people feel it’s too much money. Civilian oversight is important,” he said. “The voters supported this twice.The question is what do you base the minimum funding level on?”