New York's arrest-free search policies are well known. Less well known is the Florida city that's used quotas to stop and frisk 11-year-old boys and centenarian retirees—56,922 people in all, half the population. A new investigation finds how deep Miami Gardens' excesses really go.
"New York City has nothing on Miami Gardens," says Alice Brennan, one of the investigative reporters who unearthed the Florida city's excesses for Fusion—and a former New York reporter who previously documented the NYPD's practices inside and out. Miami Gardens' stop-and-frisk rate is six times higher than New York's, and its arrest rate is far lower.
The city's scandal, which first came to light last year when the Miami Herald reported on one black man who had been stopped 250 times, including 62 times at the same convenience store, has already brought down a police chief. But no one knew the complete depth of the problem until now.
Between 2008 and last year, Miami Gardens police officers performed 99,980 "field contact" reports in which innocent people "were stopped, written up and often identified as 'suspicious'" without being arrested or held. Nearly 57,000 of those included body searches. The neighboring city of Miami, which has a population four times that of Miami Gardens, recorded 3,753 stops in that same time. The purpose of the city's zeal, Brennan says, was "to control the population... and gather data."
Who's getting stopped? Virtually everyone and anyone. But two Miami Gardens police officers who blew the whistle to Fusion said specific groups were actively being targeted in order to make astronomical quotas. "The target to stop in Miami Gardens: he wants all black males stopped between the ages of 15 and 30 years old," the cop said of his supervisor.
He added that police would frequent "the parks, the apartment complexes in what they consider the projects… just grab people and stop them, pat them down and search them." People were written up for stops even though they were already in jail, just to make numbers. About 1,000 people in the city have been stopped and frisked, without an arrest, more than 10 times. Just over two dozen have been stopped more than 50 times.
Why all the effort? In addition to recurring crime problems, Miami Gardens earned a lot of grant money and had to put it to good use—even if that meant writing scads of fraudulent reports:
Fusion's analysis of the field contact records found several instances in which one individual was written up multiple times, by different officers, all within a few minutes.
"That's falsifying an official documentation," said one of the police officers who told Fusion the command staff of the MGPD was after one thing: "Numbers."
"They created statistics and it was done to the detriment of the Miami Gardens community," says attorney Stephan Lopez. "These cases were manipulated. They were fabricated."
Between 2008 and 2013, the City of Miami Gardens received over 15 federal grants, many of which were tied, in part, to funding overtime details to support the zero tolerance policy program, according to documents obtained by Fusion.
Internal emails from Miami Gardens Police Department obtained by Fusion show how commanders encouraged their officers to take overtime assignments to reduce violent crime. In this email sent Nov 7, 2013, a captain calls on officers to take a "hands-on approach." Two of the priorities were to be "field contacts" and "stop and frisk."
Asked if he ever complained to the police department, one of the whistleblowing officers said, "Absolutely not, because I feared retaliation."