The Miami City Police Department is having trouble hiring new police officers.
The city's police department has had its share of recent challenges: criticism over the number of civilian deaths, questions about civil rights violations and ongoing monitoring by the U.S. Justice Department.
And city commissioners are worried. For the past three years, the police department has been operating with 40 to 100 fewer officers than what the city commission has budgeted. Currently, 1,100 of 1,144 police positions are filled.
Several explanations have been offered for the shortfall. One hiccup in the hiring process was navigating what’s called a ‘consent decree.’ As part of a civil rights investigation of Miami Police Department, the decree stipulates that a federal judge monitor the actions of the department.
Initially it was thought that the decree applied to the hiring of new cops. However, the decree was being applied beyond the parameters of its intended purpose. This confusion stalled any hiring for more than two years.
"We had gotten so out of practice hiring, and so many criteria had been set that had nothing to do with hiring, that we almost had to relearn the whole process" said Miami City Commission Chair Marc Sarnoff.
No one with the Miami Police Department was available for comment.
Though the process is speeding up and 100 new police officers have been hired in the past year, another storm is brewing. There are approximately 350 cops who are planning to leave within the next few years. Those positions will also have to be filled.
Commissioner Sarnoff is worried about filling those positions for a different reason. He says, "we haven’t given any kind of incremental increase in compensation in the past five years. If you're a cop in the City of Miami that started five years ago, you're still at entry-level pay and haven’t moved up at all."
He says neighboring police departments offer not only higher starting pay but also increases after a certain number of years. Though surrounding municipalities do offer higher starting pay, the entry-level salary for Miami City Police is slightly above average for the county. The current pay for a certified police officer in the City of Miami is $48,765, much less than that in Miami Beach.
Though there is a three percent pay increase slated for early next year, police officers at the most recent commission meeting say this is not nearly enough to make up for the slash in pay in the past few years.