MIAMI (CBS4) – The Miami-Dade Police Department is investigating an entire patrol squad, a sergeant and five officers, for allegedly conspiring with one another to duck and evade calls so they could instead hang out at malls and restaurants, CBS4 News has learned.
The so-called “lost squad” worked out of the Kendall District and pending the outcome of the internal affairs investigation; the officers have been taken off the street and re-assigned to duties inside the station house.
Sources familiar with the investigation told CBS4 I-Team investigator Jim DeFede officers in the squad would respond to simple calls that would take no more than 20 or 30 minutes to handle. But rather than go back into service; they would claim they were actually on the call for two or three hours.
In other instances, they would be dispatched to a burglar alarm. But instead of going – they would lie by claiming they checked out the alarm and found nothing wrong.
The department declined to comment on the investigation, but sources familiar with the probe said it began earlier this year when officers in neighboring districts complained they were being called upon to respond to calls the squad should have handled.
Internal Affairs then launched their own sting operation, secretly following members of the unit. They even reportedly created phony radio calls to see how the officers would handle them.
The investigation is reportedly winding down and the findings will be presented to a panel of majors who will review the evidence – and if the evidence shows the officers either evaded or failed to respond to calls, then the panel will make a recommendation as to punishment.
Ultimately the decision as to punishment will be made by Police Director James Loftus. If the allegations are true, the likelihood is the officers would be fired, according to those familiar with case.
Former Miami Police Chief Ken Harms said that if the allegations are indeed true, firing the officers would be the right decision.
“It’s a violation of your of your sacred trust as a sworn police officer to engage in that kind of conduct,” Harms told DeFede. “If you are not willing to work, it’s time to retire, time to go elsewhere. Don’t be a burden on a community. Don’t be a burden on a police department. Serve with honor. Serve with dignity and earn your pay. Every day earn your pay.”
What makes this case so extraordinary, Harms said, was that it involved an entire squad allegedly working together. There have been instances in the past of individual officers getting caught shirking their duties by milking calls, but he said in all his years in law enforcement, he’s never heard of an entire squad doing it.
“Not to my recollection,” he said. “And that is something in my view that would be memorable.”
In August, the department acknowledged that a squad in the Kendall district was under investigation. But they refused to say why. The department is still not commenting while the investigation nears conclusion. But as you might imagine, residents in the area were both surprised and dismayed.
“I’m shocked,” said Candice Watson, who works in Kendall.
“I think that’s terrible,” added Pat Gray, who said she believes the majority of police officers in the county work hard protecting and serving the public.
When Kendall resident Fernando Acuna heard that the sergeant in the squad was also suspected of ducking calls, he said he wasn’t surprised.
“Well there’s your real problem,” Acuna said. “You lead by example.”
County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, a former Miami-Dade police officer, represents Southwest Dade and said he was saddened to hear of the allegations.
“As somebody who wore the badge and took pride in responding to every single call, no matter how big or small they were, it is very disappointing to hear that some of my brothers in uniform did not do this,” Martinez said, adding that at this point these are merely allegations and the investigation must continue.
“I hope and would like to think that they did respond to the calls,” Martinez said, “and if they didn’t, I’m sure the director will deal with it in the appropriate manner.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez agreed.
“We will find out what the investigation finally determines,” the mayor said. “Obviously it’s a black eye on the department. But I think the department as a whole does its job fairly well, I mean really well. And so I would hope it’s a rogue group and not something endemic in the department – and I don’t think it is.”