Miami Police Engaged in Excessive Force, Justice Department Finds
By Sarah Whites-Koditschek | July 9, 2013 3:25 pm

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division released the findings of an investigation into the Miami Police Department today, uncovering a pattern of excessive force.

“Based on our comprehensive review, we find reasonable cause to believe that MPD engages in a pattern or practice of excessive use of force with respect to firearm discharges,” said the letter of findings, which can be viewed here.

The Department’s investigation began in November 2011 at the request of U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D) and other members of the community after police officers shot and killed seven black Miami residents within seven months.

The investigation included a review of around 17,000 documents, interviews with witnesses, a review of department policies and investigative files related to firearm discharges.

According to Wilfredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, the investigation had a “dual goal of shining a light on past wrongs, [and setting] a course for the future to ensure this type of behavior will not continue.”

Investigators found “troubling MPD practices, including deficient tactics and supervision, as well as significant delays and substantive deficiencies in deadly force investigations,” according to the report. The report also found that MPD improperly utililzed specialized units, including the Tactical Robbery, Crime Suppression, Special Operations, Canine, and Gang Units, which rely on undercover officers.

“It disturbs me to say now, a decade later, the problems we saw before have returned,” Roy Austin, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said in a press conference Tuesday.

According to Austin and Ferrer, excessive reliance on undercover officers led to miscommunication in violent encounters. The report identified incidents involving excessive force on the part of three officers in particular.

The review is the second the DOJ has undertaken of the force in the past decade. An investigation begun in 2002 was closed in 2006 without a formal agreement after a period between 2002 and 2004, when no officers fired at civilians.

The report released Tuesday found that between 2008 and 2011, MPD officers intentionally shot at individuals 33 times, while only 24 of the incidents were investigated. The report also found that seven of officers were involved in a third of the shootings.

Austin and Ferrer commended Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa for his cooperation.

Orosa, sworn in in December of 2011, oversaw the 2012 completion of a 12-point plan to create a squad of homicide detectives to investigate police shootings and a three-member internal board to review police shootings.

Despite Orosa’s cooperation, the Justice Department cited delays in the investigation on the part of the MPD. “Our ability to complete the investigation was delayed by MPD’s frequent inability to produce necessary documents in a timely fashion. Delays in production were partly attributable to the fact that so many internal investigations were long overdue and could not be reviewed until completed,” the findings concluded.

According to Austin and Ferrer, a court enforceable agreement will be negotiated with city leaders in the near future.

Similar agreements have been enacted in Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans, Seattle, Portland, and other cities. The agreements generally expire after a two-year period that begins once all conditions of the agreement have been met.

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