Miami Beach Police Union Threatens Legal Action Over COVID-19 Staffing Plan

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach Police Union Threatens Legal Action Over COVID-19 Staffing Plan:

Police Chief says plan will protect officers while addressing “defiant visitors”

The union representing Miami Beach Police officers is threatening legal action over the new “enhanced staffing plan” to enforce the City’s COVID-19 emergency measures and get the Entertainment District under control. In an email to Police Chief Rick Clements, union President Kevin Millan accused Clements of using the pandemic to “unilaterally…  alter our members work schedules to a scheduling system you long desired and have talked about with less than seven (7) day notice.”

With COVID-19 cases spiking, crowds continued to be seen in the Entertainment District without masks, not social distancing, and violating the County’s 10 pm curfew. Over the past couple of weeks the City took a number of actions including limiting gathering space on Ocean Drive (which was not well received by residents and bicycle advocates) and curtailing sales of alcohol at package stores. 

When videos of fights and drunken behavior began making the rounds on social media, and ultimately made national news, the Mayor and Commissioners told City Manager Jimmy Morales and Police Chief Rick Clements to get the “unacceptable” conduct under control. Mayor Dan Gelber shared his frustration and directive in a Facebook post on Monday.

 

Later on Monday, Morales informed the Mayor and Commissioners there would be enhanced police staffing, enforcement of the emergency mandates including the wearing of masks, social distancing, restaurant restrictions and the 10 pm curfew, as well as more foot patrols in certain areas. The next day, Morales also announced a prohibition on short-term rentals in the City.

Clements laid out the reasoning to the Police Department in a Tuesday morning email. Citing an “alarming” number of COVID cases and hospitalizations in Miami-Dade County, he also noted the more than 40 officers with or exposed to COVID and quarantining at home. To not intervene, he wrote, “is tempting fate and pushing the limits of officer safety.” 

“Simply put, we are running the risk of infecting even more of our officers if we do nothing. Therefore, this email serves as notice that we are going to move to the modified staffing plan that will help us curb this disturbing trend.”

In the email Clements emphasized, “This is not a permanent plan but rather, and just as we had done in March, an effort to curb the spread of the virus until we begin to see the decline. This change will be effective Monday, the 20th at the beginning of the new pay period and will be in effect until further notice.” [Emphasis his.]
 
“I know that this change poses a challenge for many of you as any disruption of a schedule can be difficult,” the email states. “However, the health and safety of our brothers and sisters, coupled with the needs of the City and the Department while addressing the demands of COVID are the underlining premise behind this move. We simply cannot continue down a path where [we] allow both COVID, and the actions of defiant visitors, to cripple our ability to perform our jobs and stay safe in the process. We have no other option but to address this, do all that we can to meet these challenges head on, step up to them and win in the end.”
 
Local union president Kevin Millan sent a response email by Wednesday afternoon – the same day the Commission’s Neighborhoods Committee met during which Commissioners expressed support for stronger enforcement and greater police visibility.

“The Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #8 is extremely disappointed in your recent action to change shift scheduling in the patrol division,” it began. “To impose yet another schedule change on the hard-working men and women of our department is unconscionable and a violation of their rights.  The Collective Bargaining Agreement is not an agreement that can just be re-written at the City’s whim.  It is a legally binding contract.”

Millan said the “unilateral action makes it painfully apparent you only read the Management’s Rights article” of the collective bargaining agreement but, “Like your predecessor, you failed to read beyond that article, for more specific and restrictive language…”

“Ironically, this is the same contractual document that provided you for many years the terms, conditions, benefits, and comfort to which you now have discarded like trash,” he wrote. Clements was a 29-year veteran of the Department before being named Chief last year.

“If the schedule change is truly about the pandemic, infected officers, and quarantine issues; then why go to such a drastic change?” he asked. “There are other less restrictive measures which could have been taken before you decided to trash our collective bargaining agreement. No other law enforcement agency in South Florida, nor any fire rescue departments, that I am aware of, have chosen to completely revamp their schedules. Your approach is unnecessary and not supported by any science or evidence that it will indeed control or inhibit the potential exposure or spread of COVID-19 virus. Knowing that you have not obtained any reliable scientific evidence or support to justify your actions leads us to believe the true change is simply to save money and reduce overtime.”
 
“If this radical change with no end in sight was truly about Covid-19, then why would we be adding additional officers on the streets to risk more exposures?” Millan continued. “Officer’s [sic] handling park and walks, homeless issues, curfew enforcement, social distancing, and the Entertainment District is not going to reduce their exposure. These are not reasons to violate the plain language of our contract and impose any measures upon the already significantly taxed men and women of the police department.”

“Our membership has historically allowed the City to force us to work twelve hour schedules (Alpha/Bravo) through the Super Bowl, Spring Break, initial Covid-19 shutdown (and other declared emergencies) and now you unilaterally chose at this time during the pandemic to alter our members work schedules to a scheduling system you long desired and have talked about with less than seven (7) day notice,” the email states. 

“Our members are overwhelmingly against your proposed schedule change and deserve much better treatment from management after all they have sacrificed for our City and its residents. You have also proven false the City Manger’s [sic] message of: “we have your back” which is now looked at as a complete joke by our membership. Finally, to add insult to injury, the City continues to not provide coverage to our membership for Covid-19 exposures,” according to the email.
 
“Please allow this email to serve as our official notification to the City that the Miami Beach FOP Lodge #8 will be taking all the necessary and appropriate legal action(s) to rectify the City’s blatant disregard for our contractual rights and privileges,” it concludes.
 
City Manager Jimmy Morales sent the email exchange to the Mayor and Commissioners Wednesday evening with a short statement of his support for Clements:

“I want to make it clear that while I strongly support the men and women of the department (as has this City Commission through a generous collective bargaining agreement), I also know that Chief Clements and his senior command need to exercise their management rights as necessary to protect our residents, visitors and businesses. He and his team also have my full support. Thank you.”

In an update, MBPD Spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez wrote in an email Thursday morning, “[W]e currently have 41 officers out. 12 have tested positive for COVID-19 while 29 others have been exposed and are quarantining. Chief Clements is doing his best to ensure we reduce exposure within our Department while continuing to provide emergency services. This temporary staffing plan does just that.”
 

 

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