Florida’s new database of cops with bad records has holes, reform advocates say

One of the biggest cries during the summer 2020 police reform marches was about the inability of the public — even some police departments — to accurately track cops with bad records.

In Florida, for example, without a court conviction, it is extremely difficult to know if an officer has been repeatedly accused of brutality or falsifying records. Internal reviews can provide insight into past allegations of misconduct, but obtaining public records can be expensive and difficult to navigate.

The state of Florida has finally addressed the issue with the unveiling of the Florida Officer Discipline Database. The basic website can be accessed by simply typing in an officer’s name and guessing a start date.

The site, which debuted last week, is a start, but also has critical shortcomings, say advocates of police reform. Among them: it doesn’t include citizen complaints, dates back only a decade, and for an officer to be on the list they must have been convicted of a crime or convicted of a violation of morality.

“I am happy that there is a move towards transparency and accountability. But that’s far from what we’re all looking for,” said Melba Pearson, a former Miami-Dade district attorney and civil rights attorney. She noted that Derek Chauvin, convicted of murdering George Floyd, had more than 20 complaints against him during his career. “That’s one of the key things that people are asking for – not just convictions, but complaints.”

In Florida, an officer misconduct database already exists. But it’s clunky, nearly impossible for most people to navigate, and requires sifting through stacks of quarterly reports. Even the state admits that an average citizen would probably not be able to access it.

Still, Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesman Jeremy Burns denied that the new, improved version of the database had anything to do with public pressure.

“In Florida, this information has always been published and made available to the public,” he said. “FDLE staff simply created a searchable database using existing publicly available data. This has not been mandated at the state or national level.

Database Criteria

For an officer to appear in the new database, they must have committed a “morality violation” or be accused or convicted of a crime. The list of violations is long and includes everything from DUIs to stalking, using excessive force or falsifying information.

But an officer is only listed if an internal affairs review recommends punishment for a crime or moral violation. And even then, FDLE said, a public school panel that certifies officers called the Criminal Justice Standards Training Commission must also find probable cause.

Like its predecessor, the new website has significant shortcomings, according to proponents. The Miami Herald, with the assistance of the FDLE, has inserted the names of three police officers with well-known and checkered law enforcement backgrounds in Miami-Dade County. Only one appeared in the system.

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The website also claimed the officer was unemployed – although he had in fact gotten a recent promotion. This is German Bosque, currently captain at Opa-locka, who has been fired seven times and arrested and cleared three more during a 29-year career. Last year he was fired for allegedly conspiring to cover up a crime scene for another cop. He got his job back. He also won a first instance court case in which he was accused of handcuffing and punching a youth counselor who came to the police station to file a complaint against him. A decade ago, a Sarasotra Herald-Tribune investigation dubbed Bosque “Florida’s worst cop.”

According to search results on the new FDLE website, Bosque was found guilty of kidnapping and tampering with witnesses and is unemployed as a police officer. He was charged with these crimes. But in 2017, after the case fell apart and prosecutors quietly dropped the charges, Bosque was reinstated and promoted to Opa-locka.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said the database only shows employment at the time of the charge, so it is not up to date.

The database only goes back to 2012. Two other officers with controversial backgrounds did not show up at all.

One is Sergio Perez, an Opa-locka police officer fired in 2015 after participating in a police chase that resulted in the deaths of four California tourists on Interstate 95. Perez, originally fired for “ chased the vehicle the wrong way on the freeway,” eventually regained his job after an arbitrator determined the city’s investigation into Perez was flawed.

He was demoted to a clerical position in code enforcement last September after being charged with misdemeanor assault and battery against a fellow police officer, when he allegedly shocked him with a Taser. He is currently under criminal investigation by the FDLE for a 2020 incident in which he and another officer were filmed dragging a bound, mentally ill teenager up five steps, his head bouncing off the concrete .

Miami’s Javier Ortiz is also missing from the list. He has been suspended for the better part of the past two years and has been the subject of a scathing two-year state and federal investigation that detailed questionable arrests, allegations of misconduct and “a pattern of abuse and prejudice against minorities, especially African Americans. ”

His controversial social media posts include scuffles with legendary singer Beyonce over a video she made and calling out Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child killed by Cleveland police while playing with a gun toy, a “thug”.

Although the FDLE investigation did not result in any criminal charges — the agency said in many cases too much time had passed — Ortiz remains suspended today. Just last week, a police panel recommended that Ortiz be fired for a 2021 incident in which the panel claimed he was not turning over his time card to the proper supervisor.

A confrontation with Ortiz and other Miami cops on Biscayne Boulevard following a 2013 Miami Heat World Championship left a fan named Francois Alexandre with a broken eye socket. Charges against Alexander of inciting a riot and resisting arrest were quickly dropped, but the encounter inspired Alexander to advocate for police reform. He has made a name for himself by organizing some of the local walks of 2020.

Ortiz has never been punished for punching Alexander or convicted of a felony and has remained on the city payroll for the past nine years. Alexandre now has two young children, is a graduate of Florida International University and is looking for a career in general contracting. But he is disappointed that officers accused of repeated brutal or questionable arrests often escape serious discipline and remain on the force.

“No one has been convicted of breaking my orbital bone. And if it wasn’t for George Floyd, no one would even know for me,” Alexandre said. “State, I’m very optimistic. But the fact that Javier Ortiz has nine lives, for me, it’s just very amazing.”

— By Charles Rabin, Miami Herald