Joel, tell us a bit about your law enforcement background.
I’ve been with the Miami Police Department since I started my law enforcement career 27 years ago. During that time I’ve worked in a number of different units. I started, like everyone else, as a street officer. I then became a homicide investigator. After 9 years I was promoted to Sergeant. I worked bike patrol in downtown Miami and then became a supervisor in the juvenile investigations unit for 5 years – mostly missing persons and gang related work. I was then promoted to Lieutenant and for the past 6 years have been supervising the special events unit.
I would imagine Miami has a significant amount of extra duty and special event work?
Yes. We categorize our extra duty work into three groups. First we have recurring details. These are weekly, on-going, details, typically for local companies or local branches of larger corporations: supermarkets, bank branches, large office buildings, etc. We have about 150 recurring clients. In any given month about 600 of Miami’s 1100 sworn officers will work one or more recurring details.
Second we have what we call temporary jobs. These are non-recurring, one-off details for companies or private parties. For example, road construction, parties, and film shoots. The number of details and officers working varies greatly month-to-month and even day-to-day in this group.
The third group is special event details. This group is comprised of events which involve a gathering of more than 300 people and/or require street closures. Examples of such events would include the Miami marathon, the Iron Man triathlon, events at the performing arts center, Miami Heat basketball games, Florida Marlins baseball games, concerts, festivals, and the like. Including the local sports games, we host 60 – 70 such events monthly in Miami.
Give us an idea of the number of officers working some of these special events.
Some of these events require a lot of manpower to ensure the safety of citizens. A basic 5K for which the course entails downtown road closures will require about 200 officers. We have 3 of those a year along with another 20 or so 5Ks which require less manpower given they have less disruptive courses. The Calle Ocho street party, considered one of the largest such street parties and requiring over a mile of road closure, requires 250 officers. The Ultra music festival requires over 300 officers per day for each of three consecutive days. The Ironman triathlon will require 200 officers and the Miami marathon requires 400 officers. Next weekend, in addition to our recurring details, we’ll have 70 officers deployed at the Miami International boat show and the Coconut Grove Arts Festival. There’s always a lot going on.
What kind of a staff do you have in order to manage all this?
We have 10 people working in the special events unit: a lieutenant, 2 sergeants, 5 officers and 2 civilians. We’ve grown from 7 to 10 in the past 6 years.
Are there ever times when you simply don’t have enough officers to staff these needs?
Oh yes. It’s pretty much impossible to fill every single request we get. We do utilize officers from neighboring jurisdictions on an as-needed basis. Also, we turn down 1 or 2 of these 5Ks every month. We act as a liaison between the event promoter and the city. Our role is to balance three things: enabling the promoter to hold the event at a cost that is manageable, minimizing the inconvenience to our citizens and ensuring the safety of the community and participants. Above all else is ensuring the safety of the community and the event participants. If we feel we can’t ensure safety with the number of officers available to us and at a cost that makes sense to the promoter, we can’t accept the detail. At no time would we jeopardize safety in order to get a detail done at a lower cost with fewer than the needed number of officers.
What changes have you seen in Miami extra duty since you’ve been in your current role?
The downtown profile has changed. Downtown Miami used to be a work center. On weeknights and weekends it was pretty quiet. Now you have more people living downtown. Closing downtown streets on a Sunday for an event, which once would cause only minimal disruption to citizens, can now be quite disruptive. You could have a doctor living downtown needing to get to the hospital for an emergency on a Sunday. We need to take these legitimate needs of citizens into account when planning events.
It sounds like a ton of responsibility and work – so, do you like being in your current role managing all of this?
My role is very rewarding. While this is the hardest job I’ve ever had, it’s also the most rewarding. Many times when people interact with the police department, something bad has happened. Either they are being apprehended for criminal behavior, or questioned, or they are the victim of a crime. When people interact with us, it’s out of mutual respect and need. We get to have very positive interactions with the public and present the department in a positive light.
The hours can, at times, be long. Between an upcoming boat show, soccer games and other events, I have 12 continuous 15-16 hour days ahead of me.
We also get some unique opportunities in the special events unit. For example, we coordinate movie shoots taking place in the city – we have many movies filmed here. Some of these present real challenges to solve. For example the filming of Bad Boys 2 required the main causeway between Miami and Miami Beach to be closed for an entire week. You can imagine how much planning and communication needs to occur around something like that. We also get to interact with some of the actors. I’ve met the Rock, who is actually very funny, and Will Smith – also, a very down to earth guy.
So yes, the role can come with some long hours and unique problems to solve, but it also comes with a lot of positive interaction with the public: very rewarding.
Thanks so much for your time today Joel.