Pay cuts make recruitment a long shot E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

In the old days, hiring more cops wasn’t the kind of thing that people got too worked up over. But that was then and this is now. In Miami, Florida the battle over hiring more cops versus restoring lost benefits is getting pretty heated. City officials and police union leaders are ratcheting up the rhetoric in a high-stakes fight to the finish.

“We have to respond to the people. We will be able to show the police department is growing,” Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said while attending a graduation ceremony at the city’s police college recently.

While the mayor was talking inside, Fraternal Order of Police President Javier Ortiz was in front of a television camera outside the building.

Ortiz offered reporters a one-page statement with a simple message; “Retaining your current police force by resolving their benefits and being competitive to hire the best is the solution.”

So what’s the ruckus? At issue is Miami’s $524 million spending plan, how much the police department is getting and what they will use the funds for.

As is always the case at budget time, there are competing priorities.

Coconut Grove homeowners for instance are worried about a slight increase in burglaries. They want $10 million to hire 100 more cops.

Maybe they should ask the current officers whether or not people will apply for the job.

Miami police officers have seen four years of salary and benefit cuts. In some cases those cuts reduced officers’ total pay by more than 20 percent. Miami officers want $6.5 million to restore some of those losses and make the agency attractive to cops looking for work.

Part of the intensity of this particular budget battle is the Internet factor. The FOP’s Ortiz has helped produce Internet videos mocking the department and even warning potential hires to look elsewhere.

Grove residents worried about crime, which is down from last year except for the burglaries have been spamming voters like crazy with alarmist and melodramatic emails about the end of times being near if more cops aren’t hired.

Miami police officers are at the low end of the pay scale compared to other agencies in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The city has nowhere near the 1,144 officers it has budgeted for. Making matters worse Miami is facing the loss of more than 250 officers in an early retirement program by 2017.

Then there’s the tax revenue problem. The problem is that people don’t want to pay taxes and have been sold on the idea that they can get more for less. Residents want more cops but they don’t think they should have to pay for them.

The Miami budget, if passed, means homeowners will pay a property tax rate of $8.43 for every $1,000 of property. That’s a slight decrease from this year and will bring a whopping $8 in savings for the owner of a $200,000 home.

After four years of cuts, the proposed 2014 spending plan leaves most departments with budgets similar to or slightly less than a year ago

City administrators who pushed the police pay cuts over the last several years are also being blamed for the lack of hires in the department- currently 40 officers short of the 1,144 Miami budgeted for this year.

To gain some public support for their position, city leaders made a big deal out of the recent graduating class of 10 police recruits.

It turned out to be a pretty entertaining graduation ceremony.

Police Chief Manuel Orosa sent out blast emails and contacted the media, inviting the public to see the city’s newest graduating class. The event took place in a massive auditorium that seats about 300.

Only five civilians showed up to see the rookies graduate. The media though, alerted by both city and police union officials were out in force.

The five civilians in attendance were far outnumbered by media.

“Regardless of what you’ve heard through the media, there are many who want to be cops,” Mayor Regalado told the sparse crowd.

Not so says Ortiz. He points out that four officers have left unexpectedly in just a matter of weeks.

“Today, under incredible pressure from the mayor, Chief Orosa had a press conference with new Miami police recruits as a backdrop attempting to portray that hiring isn’t an issue for the city of Miami,” said Ortiz. “After the press conference, a number of them told me that they have applied to Miami Beach and other police departments in order to make better pay and benefits. Can you blame them?”

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