Monday, September 5, 2011

Who Benefits?

Last week, I asked the question, "How does it benefit the residents of North Bay Village to be a separate city?" That question is radical but it comes down to asking what unique government services do NBV's three neighborhoods require and is our structure of government meeting the needs? In other words, who benefits from NBV being its own city?

One answer is the police. North Bay Village's budget officially calls for 66% of the budget to go to the police in 2012. If we add in the $190,000 increase in legal fees for internal police matters, that number jumps to 70%. Remember our millage rate, even if it holds to 2011's rate, is as high as Normandy Isle or Surfside. So it's fair to say that mostly what we pay for are the police.

North Bay Village police gained a reputation as being a third tier department, staffed by new police officers eager to get some experience, a pre-retirement job for older cops and unfortunately, a place where well connected union members from other cities could find employment after being dismissed from other departments.

The unions, previously the PBA and now the FOP, work on elections, endorse candidates, give generously at times and provide a high level of unofficial support to favored candidates. The currently popular union, the FOP, endorsed Trujillo and Lim in the last election and have made no secret that they controlled the firing of the last city manager and the hiring of the current police chief.

Public sector unions are unique, different than private sector unions, in that they also engage in attempts to be the management of the organization which employs them. Their political influence is strong and not surprisingly, is singularly directed for the benefit of their members, not the community at large. In their endorsement process last fall, the FOP did not consider which candidate had a vision for North Bay Village, who might be best at judiciously balancing the needs of residents, businesses and employees, or other aspects of good governance. They found a candidate in Rey Trujillo who was willing to put aside other considerations and they endorsed him.

Lately this seems to be something of an unholy alliance, since Rey Trujillo has been calling for the layoff of cops, while his electioneering support organization is headed up by the person who eliminated the police pension program and their most vocal supporter from out of town has long proposed the abolition of the local police force.

Even though Rey Trujillo lost, Eddie and Connie Lim Kreps carried on the blind support of the FOP, aided by pressure on the increasingly frail Dr. Vogel, and for the second year running, are raising taxes so the police do not have to make any cuts.

What do we get from the police department?

We have separate dispatch, that is a local number to call when we need assistance. That's a nice, underused feature. Although the police chief does not measure or share statistics on response time, casual observation shows pretty fast response. We used to have community programs like the PAL and Crime Watch. We don't anymore for some reason.

But let's look in more detail. The local dispatch handles an average of 8 calls per day. That is according to the statistics the chief does provide. That less than three calls per shift and we know that these are not evenly distributed. Whole days go by with no calls at all. The majority of service calls are through county 911, and there seems to be no difference in response time. That's a lot money for low return.

There has been no attempt to restart the crime watch, an effort that must be led by the police, and the PAL has dissolved.

In the meantime, the fight between the PBA and FOP, a fight that has at times been physical, rages on in the police department, expensive and unnecessary outside investigations are in place against PBA members, and the chief has not been able to even sustain a minor adjustment in schedules as a cost cutting measure. We never see the police on foot or bicycles anymore and patrols appear to be more scarce than they were. Even then, the cops pass by with the deeply shaded windows rolled up. When was the last time you saw a car pulled over on the causeway compared to the last time you saw someone driving 50 miles per hour on the causeway?

North Bay Island, in spite of our already high tax rate, still feels the needs to remain gated and those few remaining local businesses hire private security.

It is plain that the police department is not working at anywhere near full capacity and that begs the question, why even have a local police force? I like it, and you might too, but when it is such a disproportionate part of our budget, are we getting value for the money spent? Could we safely go to county or ask Miami Beach to take over our patrols? Do people in Country Walk or Miami Lakes suffer from excessive crime and poor response times? It doesn't seem like it.

This question, what is the value of our police services, would be much more easily answered if we had monthly police statistics like other cities released to the public. Number of calls for service, average response time, crimes committed, crimes solved, number of patrols, number of resident contacts, community programs, visible police presence, but we don't have that. Without it, we're left to wonder why.

North Bay Village does have options. We can declare a "Fiscal Urgency" that would allow us to renegotiate our police contracts. The police chief could manage the department with the goal of resolving the personnel conflicts rather than prosecuting them. North Bay Village could dissolve the police department, enter into an agreement with the county and try that for a while. The current situation is not sustainable.

Special note: an anonymous internet sock puppet stalker sent out an attack today on a resident who disagrees with him. Not only is the email untrue, it's just creepy that anonymous stalkers have access to the citywide mailing list.

And here's my favorite quote from the electioneering organization, Citizens for Full Disclosure, "
We will not be brought into the gutter to argue the merits of the recall. " Arguing the merits of a recall is "gutter" in their august opinion. It's what I've told you all along, the CFD is nothing more than a group of bitter demagogues who can't and won't argue the merits of anything.

Kevin Vericker

September 5, 2011

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