MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The director of the Miami-Dade Police Department spoke Saturday afternoon discussing the next steps the department will take after hundreds of Miami-Dade county employees received pink slips.
Director James Loftus said he has a heavy heart, but he has a job to do.
He and his command staff had to tell 118 of the most junior members of his department that they will be laid off and 41 other employees will be demoted, according to CBS4’s Natalia Zea. That is six percent of his street officers.
In addition, 150 corrections positions will be eliminated along with 282 government supervisor positions.
If the mayor, commission and union cannot work out a deal, all those officers will be let go in 20 days.
Despite the political turmoil around the situation, Loftus said his priority is keeping the public safe.
He plans to re-structure the department by shifting priorities away from non-violent crimes like burglary and fraud, to make sure there are enough cops patrolling the streets. He’s also going to cut back community programs like DARE.
“We will do less of that in order to serve our basic commitment,” said Loftus, “Our basic commitment is to prevent and solve violent crime.
But he also told Zea that property crimes are on the rise. There were 8000 home burglaries in Miami-Dade County in 2011. That’s 900 more than in 2010.
Hearing that burglary investigations will now be a lower priority worried West Miami-Dade resident Jose Pineda. His neighbor’s home was burglarized just before Christmas and no one has been caught.
“Obviously they have been watching the neighborhood and that makes us nervous. It could happen to us, it could happen to anyone around,” he said.
Loftus said he has no choice but to scale back, “There will be an investigation but it’s possible it will take longer.”
Loftus said the layoffs are a big hit to the department but they will find a way to get through it for “the betterment of the people we serve.”
Loftus issued a statement Friday afternoon addressing the layoffs.
“In a Department with a history of dark and difficult days, this one is unique. Never before have so many of our finest left us under these circumstances,” the statement read. “As always, we will find a way to persevere because of our responsibility as the Thin Blue Line. I give you my word that I will shift resources to ensure officer safety while honoring our commitment to the Department’s core function.”
Loftus also offered his sympathy to those who were affected by the cuts.
“To everyone impacted by this layoff, my heart goes out to you. My family and I will keep you in our prayers. To everyone in the Department, please continue to fight to keep your focus. Your safety, the safety of your coworkers, and the well-being of our community demands your vigilance and commitment.”
Police said it was a somber day in the department.
“You have senior officers that are crying. You have junior officers that are crying and it’s hard to fight back the tears when you’re watching someone sit there cry next to you that you know that person would give their life for you” said Detective Larry Hendricks who learned Friday he’ll lose his job in three weeks.
Officer Sylvia Nadel also received a layoff notice. She said she’s dreamed of becoming a police officer her whole life.
“A lot of people come here with the American dream to become rich. Well my American dream was to become a police officer. I never imagined that once I accomplished that four years later I was going to be told I don’t have a job anymore,” said Nadel.
It’s not the first time she feared her career would end. In 2010, she said, a suspect broke her wrist during an arrest. Now this mother of two said she doesn’t know how she will support her growing family.
“The first thing that came to my mind is ‘Hold on I’m pregnant. I can’t do this. It’s affecting my child’,” she explained.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez told officers there would be layoffs after commission voted not to require officers to pay an additional five percent of their paychecks for health insurance. Officers already made numerous concessions including giving up holiday pay and uniform allowances.
“I would rather not do this,” said Gimenez. “This was caused by the commission‘s inaction in not imposing this five percent health care contribution which totals $18 million and I have to do my duty.”
But officers said South Floridians will all pay the price for the layoffs.
“Your protection, your safety could be in danger as you travel the streets because you put less cops on the street, you’re going to have more crime,” said Detective Hendricks who works with the gang unit. He added, “We’re the ones that are suppressing the crime, we’re the ones who are trying to block it from getting out to the streets.”
The mayor vetoed the commission’s decision not to impose a contribution increase. The commission will revisit the issue January 24th, but the Mayor’s office maintains that the department must agree to the five percent increase, or find the money elsewhere within the department.