And all of that money hasn't bought better policing on the Beach, according to national stats compiled by the FBI. Beach cops solved 15 percent of crimes — less than Hialeah, North Miami Beach, and Miami-Dade County, which cleared 21 percent, and about equal to Coral Gables and the City of Miami.

But the Beach cops were abysmal in some important areas, solving just eight of 50 rapes reported — by far the worst average in the county — and only 9 percent of all car thefts.

Cops' salaries and pensions, along with precipitously dropping property taxes, might just bankrupt the City of Miami Beach, whose leaders are hard-pressed to rein in police spending. Much of the problem traces to a union agreement that favors cops over taxpayers.

Illustrations by Pat Kinsella
Illustrations by Pat Kinsella

"This contract has been negotiated during more than three decades, so it's very difficult to try to change it in just one sitting," says Jorge Gonzalez, Miami Beach's city manager.

The current three-year contract was negotiated in the heady summer of 2006, when real estate was still on the way up and Miami Beach's bank account was fat. Here's what the agreement guaranteed for Beach cops:

• New hires start at more than $48,000, and cops are guaranteed a 5 percent annual raise every year for their first seven years.

• The city pays for cops' take-home cars, equipment, eyeglasses, and even sunglasses.

• Officers have up to 26 days off each year, including holidays and their birthday, plus up to 12 days of sick leave.

• A "me too" clause guarantees that any new perk negotiated by the firefighters' union also automatically gets added to the cops' pact and vice versa.

To those standard guarantees, the city tossed in additional cost-of-living pay increases that averaged about 5 percent a year, 40 hours more of vacation that retiring cops can sell back to the city for cash when they leave, and an extra $10 a month for "uniform cleaning allowances."

The union has garnered the money in part by playing to public sympathy. In January, police boycotted off-duty work during Super Bowl week and packed City Commission meetings.

"Who wants to piss off a cop?" says Florida State Rep. Juan Zapata, who has introduced a bill this year that would cap pension benefits for public safety workers. "We need to address these contracts in Tallahassee because it's almost impossible for local municipalities to take on police departments."

What's more, the union endorses candidates each election season. The endorsement not only allows a candidate to claim the "law and order" vote but also means the union will encourage its members and friends to donate cash.

Two Miami Beach elected officials, who asked not to be named in this article, say union endorsement is all about money. When the union invites candidates for an interview, they say, the only questions asked are about the contract.

In good years, like 2006, that kind of pressure might not matter as much. But this is anything but a good year. The latest estimate from city actuaries shows a $30 million gap between revenues and spending for 2010.

Roughly half of that deficit comes from plummeting property values. The other half is largely due to skyrocketing pension payouts to the fund that covers police officers and firefighters.

To fix the budget gap, city leaders have proposed that police officers pay 12 percent of their salary — a 2 percent hike — each year into their pensions, that they agree to a two-year freeze in the guaranteed 5 percent raises, and that new hires will be allowed to retire only after age 50. (Now officers can retire whenever their age and years of service add up to 70; so a cop who begins work at age 20 can conceivably retire at 45.)

In early negotiations, the police union has offered to forgo cost-of -living increases for the next two years and to pay an extra 2 percent into the pension fund for one year.

That should be enough to help balance the books, says Fraternal Order of Police President Bello. "We sure as hell aren't going to give up everything we've fought to earn over the last 50 years."

Bello says lack of funding, not six-figure salaries, is the problem. In good times, the department was slated to have more than 400 sworn cops — today there are 367.

"We're in the middle of four weeks of spring break, and we're forcing our guys to work overtime to deal with the country's spring breakers," Bello says. "It's just one event after another on the Beach, yet we're forced to fight with city leaders to show what we're worth."

To Mayor Bower, that argument rings hollow. "This isn't a good year to make the same demands as in years past. I know this is a dangerous job, but they went into the police force knowing that. We're going to need to hold the line on the budget, and part of that means everybody has to give up something."

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1 comments
vienna221
vienna221

Two years later, in 2013, is this still true? Because my 8-yr-old son was violently kidnapped and believed murdered ... and I am still waiting for the US government - any agency, any level,  I'm not particular which - to find his body. And return it to me for burial. And to prosecute the killer. Especially when there are rumors all over the DC / Virginia / MD area, where the kidnap / killing occured, of at least one local law enforcement individual being involved; (police or FBI who assault and then are not found out for years, is not uncommon); when the original local police reports on the kidnap are "missing," etc. And so I wait day after day after day, as a grieving mother - and this is the worst grief  - for news of my little child. and for justice. and am told, there is not enough money. there are not enough "resources." the case is too "cold." 

If we are paying police more than we are paying the US Vice President, I expect them to be good enough to find a little boy's body. Even good enough to prevent our children from being slaughtered, to begin with. there should be no crime at all, at such salaries. Because I know that social workers and teachers are not making this much. and they are the ones interacting daily, with our children. and I know that when I stop - as a mother with very very little resources of her own, because i spend everything I can spare on my child's search - to help other families, standing under a bridge here in miami, for ex., with a baby with no shoes and no food and no diapers, in this heat and humidity all day ... that maybe those getting over $200k could be stopping, too. and yet these families tell me, that no one who looks like they can afford to stop, actually stops. 

So I just thought I would ask, as a mother, WHY you would pay so much to regular officers? when so many are going without. with little children. and there is so little dedicated to children's safety, or predator apprehension. and when many professions are in risk positions,  especially in fields like intelligence, and do not receive such salaries. I have said the same thing, so that I do not appear biased, as a federal contractor, about CEO salaries. Because it is a shame and dishonor to support companies, with tax relief and tax incentives, who then pay their executives several million. 

But I will tell you what one officer responded, when i went round a block recently, and asked him for help with a homeless person in a wheelchair - he said not to worry, that such people "want" to be homeless. I hope this officer was not one of those collecting over $200k. Perhaps if you dropped police salaries down to an even $150k, you could afford to collect less, in tickets? Or could afford to support homeless children more? or could afford to look for cold cases... when each "case" is really a suffering little child, screaming and begging for their mother - if we are to believe witnesses in my son's "cold case." 

I would expect every drunk, every drug dealer, every casino male, every worthless male criminal, to be shut up in a cage forever, if these are the salary levels, here in Miami. Because if police had done their jobs - or FBI - properly to begin with, my son would still be alive. 



 
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