Thursday, December 08, 2011

Sweetwater...still dirty after all these years (Part 2)

Sarasota Herald Tribune reporters Matthew Doig and Anthony Cormier have another story today in their excellent series, "Unfit for Duty," which is taking a multi-part look at Florida police officers who keep their badges despite repeated instances of misconduct, and in many cases, criminal acts.

(On Sunday, Doig and Cormier reported that Florida's dirtiest cop works at the Opa-Locka Police Department despite 40 internal affairs cases in 20 years.)

In today's story the reporters reveal that troubled Florida cops often find second chances by finding jobs at smaller departments. Doig and Cormier found that some of Miami-Dade County's smaller police agencies employ troubled cops at a higher rate than that of larger departments.
A Herald-Tribune computer analysis of the FDLE's misconduct cases and employee data supported the idea that the state's smaller agencies are a dumping ground for problem officers.
At the largest agencies, 3.9 percent of the officers had committed a violation serious enough that it had been sent to the FDLE, which decides whether to end an officer's career. At the smallest agencies, 8.1 percent of the officers had a misconduct case that put their career in jeopardy — more than twice as many.

The difference is even more stark when comparing the state's largest agency with some of the smaller agencies that operate in its shadow.

Four police departments in Miami-Dade County — Biscayne Park, Sweetwater, Opa-Locka and Hialeah Gardens — have, on average, 20.7 percent of their officers with a state misconduct case. Meanwhile the number is only 4.9 percent at the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Cormier and Doig report that...
Of the 19 Sweetwater police officers sent to the commission for misconduct, 12 were hired after incidents at other agencies, including six from the nearby Miami-Dade County or City of Miami police departments. The former Miami officers include Saul Fernandez, who faced discipline for a sex offense; Ignacio Menocal for cocaine possession; and Eduardo Demurias for indecent exposure.

Sweetwater Police Chief Roberto Fulgueira said he personally vetted each of his officers before hiring them. He cited an old law enforcement expression: "You can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride."

Normally used in reference to people, guilty or not, who have to ride in the back of a police car and spend time in jail, Fulgeria used the line to illustrate that an officer stained by a disciplinary incident is not necessarily an officer unfit for duty.

"This stuff is supposed to follow you forever?" he asked. "For the rest of your career? Of course I'm going to give somebody a second chance."
More information on the Sweetwater Police Department's dirty and sordid past can be found by clicking here and here.

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