Miami’s new Police Chief will have his hands full sorting through the criminal element inside his own department, as he is ushered in as Magic City’s top cop amid a spate of internal scandals.
Former assistant Police Chief, Jorge Colina, was sworn in a day after the Miami New Times published a new piece on the shameful exploits of Police Capt. Javier Ortiz, whose antics around the community, have resulted in dozens of lawsuits for misconduct, including incidents of cyberstalking, harassment, police brutality and fabricating arrest reports. The MPD veteran is seemingly proud of his Internal Affairs file, bragging about it on Facebook, and even going so far as to taunt the press about his untouchability.
Ortiz, who was promoted to Captain in October of last year, used to head the city’s Police Union; a post he relinquished in favor of his friend, and possibly more corrupt colleague, Sgt. Edward Lugo, who was caught running a criminal protection racket during an FBI sting in 2009. Ortiz didn’t go far, however, staying on as Vice President of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police.
Only a couple of months earlier, Officer Adrian Santos, was arrested and charged with cocaine possession after he was spotted snorting the white powder inside a Miami nightclub while off duty. Rodolfo Llanes, Colina’s former boss and predecessor, denounced the two-and-a-half year member of the force, who is appealing his termination. Santos’ lawyer filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming it was negligent in forwarding information on his investigative file, according to a report by the Miami Herald.
The very day that Colina took over as Chief, Officer Dermis Hernandez, was arrested while trying to board a flight to Costa Rica. Hernandez is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a Ponzi scheme he operated between 2011 and 2015, according to the FBI. The 12-year Miami Police veteran scammed fellow officers out of their pensions, promising a 20% return on investment in a company that ostensibly provided high-interest loans to property owners in Costa Rica. Hernandez was taken into custody at Hollywood-Ft. Lauderdale International Airport on Monday.
Despite the seemingly bad omens surrounding Colina’s appointment, it barely underscores an already familiar pattern of corruption. Colina will be the fifth Chief of Police Miami has had in the last nine years; an unprecedented turnover rate for the 1,200 plus strong force. His promotion was a decision made practically from the hip by new City Manager, Emilio T. Gonzalez, who named him Chief of Police after a single meeting. No search for candidates or application process was carried out.
Among the qualities that attracted Gonzalez to Colina was his desire to expand the department’s coordination with federal agencies, and just days after naming Colina, Emilio T. Gonzalez released a statement that emphasized the new Police Chief’s intention to use the latest technologies to “enhance efficiency, improve transparency and reduce overall crime”. In other words, this signifies the broad implementation of new and highly questionable law enforcement technologies, such as Sting Ray devices, facial recognition software and iris-scanners among other invasive tools, that are being rolled out to police precincts around the country.
Colina emerged elated from the meeting, sounding like a high school student who had just bonded with his counselor: “Man, I’m tripping out,” Colina said. “I met with the manager this morning and we had a long philosophical discussion.”
Given Gonzalez’ background and Colina’s own words, the philosophy in question was unlikely to revolve around community outreach. “There’s no reason why we can’t be one of the safest cities in the country,” Colina told the Miami Herald. “Reducing gun violence is the priority. I have no sympathy if you chose to use a firearm to commit a crime.”
The Cuban-born Gonzalez was George W. Bush’s Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and boasts a distinguished military career, during which he served with the Defense Intelligence Agency as a military attaché and at U.S. Southern Command, heading their Office of Special Assistants for the Commander in Chief. After 26 years in the armed forces, Gonzalez retired with the rank of Colonel.
Gonzalez is fresh off a four-year stint as Director of Miami International Airport; a position to which he was appointed by embattled county Mayor, Carlos Gimenez, whose embrace of Trump’s Sanctuary City ban has caused a rift among locals. The Mayor defended his decision by citing much needed federal dollars, but the move does more to reveal the entrenched interests of the Cuban-American lobby, which continues to have more sway than the city’s changing demographics suggest it should.
Under Gimenez, Miami has solidified itself as the capital of income inequality, with a majority of residents slogging through low-paying jobs in the service economy in the third largest renters market in the country, while South American millionaires scoop up luxury condos. Meanwhile, David Beckham is about to raze parts of one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods to build a stadium for his new MLS franchise and Amazon teases South Florida with more service jobs, that we’re invited to subsidize ourselves.
The risk for severe social unrest lies just beneath the surface, and a corrupt police force along with an insulated leadership, that chooses to stand with Trump’s anti-immigration policies, against the logical interests of most Miami residents – including Cubans of more recent extraction, is setting the stage for a confrontation down the line.