In Hallandale Beach, police officers are being paid salaries far above the national average, despite being a department riddled with controversial shootings, beatings, and huge payouts to victims of police brutality. And for cops involved in those payouts, subsequent promotions and awards are not uncommon.
The City of Hallandale Beach has about 38,000 residents. The average base salary for a police officer in a city of that size, according to a 2010 U.S. Department of Justice study, is $41,800 to $55,500. But in casino- and condo-saturated Hallandale Beach, the lowest police officer salary is just under $54,000 per year, and the vast majority of officers are pulling in annual salaries around $77,000, according to the city's line-by-line budget (see page 139). Every captain and nearly every sergeant make more than $100,000 per year. Fifteen HBPD employees, including Chief Dwayne Flournoy and two public information officers (who are also captains), make more than six figures.
And those are just base salaries. With retirement and benefits packages, the total cost to taxpayers for each cop in the HBPD is $148,000 per year, which is almost $25,000 more than the average taxpayer cost for officers in cities of similar size.
The City of Hallandale Beach proudly boasts that it spends 34 cents out of every tax dollar on its police department. If that’s correct, it means the total cost of operating HBPD is more than $20 million. According to DOJ figures, the operating costs for a police department in a city of the same size is $6.4 million. That’s about $1 million less than what Hallandale Beach spends on officer pay alone.
Meanwhile, cops tangled in expensive civil lawsuits over police brutality continue to make substantial sums of money and, in at least one case, got a promotion.
Officer Edward McGovern shot and killed unarmed Gregory Ehlers Jr. in December 2012. McGovern claimed he saw Ehlers, who fled police after he shoplifted from a Best Buy, reach for a gun. But the only object Ehlers had near his hands was one of the items he stole — a small netbook.
The family of Ehlers filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city. City Attorney Lynn Whitfield advised the City Council to pay up and avoid trial because the trial was scheduled for December 18, 2014, and “juries like to give near Christmas,” she said, according to transcripts of the council meeting.
The city paid the Ehlers family $150,000. The shooting is still under criminal investigation at the State Attorney’s Office.
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Despite the big payout and pending investigation, McGovern, a former Miami Beach bouncer who has now been a cop for nearly 15 years, was promoted from officer to sergeant, with a base salary of $86,000 per year. With retirement and benefits, McGovern’s annual cost to taxpayers is $168,000. In 2014, he was named Officer of the First Quarter for his role in locating a theft suspect. The suspected swindler was a so-called spiritual healer. McGovern found the self-professed healer by asking the print shop owner who made the “healer’s” business cards to give him a call next time an order was placed.
Officer Michael McKenzie, who shot and killed unarmed Howard Bowe during a SWAT raid (the incident was explored in a New Times cover story earlier this month), has been on desk duty since the deadly May 2014 incident. McKenzie was also awarded in 2014 — given a “Life Saving” award later that year for having attended to a motorcycle-accident victim.
Another officer, Josue Hernandez, was the object of a civil lawsuit after he physically assaulted a man during a road rage incident. The lawsuit went to trial in 2013 — about a week before Christmas — and the jury awarded the victim $82,000. Hernandez is still on the force with a cost to taxpayers of $139,000. But the city sued him to pay the victim’s $42,000 of attorney’s fees.
New Times reached out to Chief Flournoy and Mayor Joy Cooper for comment, but they did not respond.