MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Three rookie officers with the City of Miami Police Department were fired after making off-color comments about using black neighborhoods as target practice, according to internal affairs investigation.
“It shows a lack of respect,” said Sylvester Shorter, who lives in Liberty City.
They were made in a group chat on the popular messaging app WhatsApp, that includes a number of other police officers, after one of them replied to a question asking for directions to an indoor shooting range in Miami.
“Go to model city they have moving targets,” one response said, as reported by CBS4 News partner The Miami Herald.
‘Model City’ is the name often used within government agencies for Liberty City, the historically black community that goes back to the 1930’s.
“There’s a range in Overtown on 1 and 11. Moving targets and they don’t charge,” remarked another.
Other officers and colleagues in the chat considered the comments to be racist, or at least in poor taste, and complained. It comes as the department has taken heat for recent officer-involved shootings and is currently under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Officers Kevin Bergnes, Miguel Valdes and Bruce Alcin were stripped of their badges.
“These kind of comments don’t belong in the city of miami police department,” said Community activist Tangela Sears.
She’s happy the Miami Police chief took action.
“They’ve come a long way,” she said “and every time they identify these guys I think they need to do just what the chief did, terminate them.”
In a statement, Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes said, in part:
“The actions of these officers were found to be inconsistent with the mission and values of our department.”
The officers told their superiors they were just joking and didn’t mean to offend anyone.
Their attorney, Stephan Lopez, said, “I don’t think they have a lack of respect for the community. Again, one of the officers, Bruce Alcin, is African-American. Miguel Valdes has African-American blood in him. To say they don’t respect their own community is incongruous with reality.”
Their comments continued on, saying in Overtown “they even run scenarios and pretend that they’re shooting heroin” and mentioned using a Bank of America for target practice where “they’ll even give you some cash.”
All three officers were recent graduates of the Miami Police Academy and still in a probationary period, making their termination easier than it would be with full-time officers. On December 19th, the internal affairs investigation determined they violated multiple department policies involving social media, courtesy and responsibility. They were let go four days later.
The fired officers have the support of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police Union.
President Javier Ortiz said in a statement:
“Everyone at the MPD knows that when it comes to shootings in the City, that district is completely out of control. But the manager rather focus on text messages than the senseless killings and violent crime in the Overtown/Model City areas.”
Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso sent his own statement, which read:
“Comments like those made by the three probationary officers, suggesting the use of human beings for target practice, do not reflect the Community policing principles we advocate.”
The officers hired the attorney is the hopes of getting their jobs back.