By Charles Rabin and Christina Veiga
The Miami Herald
MIAMI — Miami Beach's police chief has put a stop to lucrative off-duty assignments for officers at more than a dozen nightclubs, as the city investigates whether one of his sergeants was drunk while on detail.
Police Chief Dan Oates' announcement sparked immediate outrage from the city's union leaders, who called it a "knee-jerk" reaction that will only serve to tax an already stressed-out police force even further.
Club owners, however, gave a lukewarm response to the news, saying they will adjust. The new policy goes into effect Aug. 1, giving club owners some time to find alternative private security.
"I am convinced that we need more safeguards and tighter rules before we can consider allowing this kind of work to resume," Oates wrote in a prepared statement, saying that command staff will also seek input from club owners on how to move forward.
Sgt. Mike Muley was relieved of duty Monday after an anonymous 911 caller complained he was intoxicated while working an off-duty shift at Mango's Tropical Cafe — marking at least the fourth time a Beach cop had been accused of being drunk or drinking while in uniform over the past three years.
The incident also comes just a month after an outside audit of the department policies recommended that the city change the way it assigns off-duty jobs to officers because of the likelihood of an officer developing "a sense of allegiance to a secondary employer and choose to ignore their sworn duty in order to protect a source of steady, supplemental income."
That income can be lucrative: Miami Beach police work 85,000 hours of secondary employment a year, the report noted, which is equal to 41 additional full-time officers in uniform. A starting cop on Miami Beach makes $49,000 a year. The clubs pay officers $45 an hour, with $10 of that hourly wage going to city coffers. Off-duty income also bolsters an officer's future pension.
Oates — at the department's helm only a month, and brought in to clean up a series of nationally embarrassing incidents in the department in recent years — wouldn't comment any further than his prepared statement.
His decision was not received well by the Fraternal Order of Police.
"Residents should be up in arms," said FOP President Alex Bello. "This is less patrol time in your neighborhood because we're going to be called to nightclubs."
The chief's new edict will cause a drain on resources and cost the city more money, Bello said, because the thousands of calls a year for police assistance at the nightclubs now will have to be answered by the city's 289 patrol officers — depleting resources from residential neighborhoods.
"I think it's a knee-jerk reaction to an incident we haven't concluded yet," he said.
The new policy shouldn't be a problem, as long as the police department dedicates enough resources to the tourists who flock to South Beach, said Mango's owner David Wallack. The front of Mango's opens up on busy Ocean Drive.
Cops are much more effective than private security, Wallack said.
"The mere presence of a uniformed officer ends 95 percent of any problem — with a smile," he said.
Opium Group partner Roman Jones, who owns beach hotspots the Cameo Theater and Mansion Nighclub, said his company stopped hiring off-duty officers a few years ago because the city cops responded so quickly to calls. His clubs now use private security.
Jones said hiring off-duty police gives the city some financial relief and has the same effect as having private security.
"The uniform officer is a great deterrent," Jones said.
Miami Beach has not made a major change to its police department's off-duty policies since 2003 -- after an officer was arrested on felony charges of stealing money from club owners and officers for coordinating off-duty jobs.
Several other officers were disciplined after an investigation discovered they collected pay for jobs they hadn't performed, or had taken home more than the maximum weekly pay allowed for off-duty shift coordinators.
In the wake of that scandal, the city stopped allowing employers to pay officers directly for off-duty shifts.
Meanwhile, Muley — who was hospitalized for undisclosed reasons — remains on suspension while the department conducts an investigation into the incident at Mango's.
And though he has received commendations on- and off-duty over the years, he also has seen his share of trouble while in uniform.
In 2011, Muley was suspended after another cop accused of being drunk on duty ran over two beach-goers while giving a bride-to-be a joyride on a police all-terrain vehicle.
Muley was a sergeant on duty that night. He eventually got his stripes back. But Officer Derek Kuilan — who drove the ATV — recently was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Ironically, six years ago, another Miami Beach officer also was suspended after being accused of drinking on the job at Mango's.
Eduardo Macias was wearing his uniform when he fell victim to a police sting operation after a woman complained he fondled her after pulling her over for a DUI test. He asked the woman for her number and she agreed to meet him at Mango's, where police said he downed two Cape Codders, a concoction that includes vodka, cranberry and lime juice.
In 2012, Officer Michael Veski was accused of drinking a beer while riding as a passenger in his own marked squad car. He was off-duty at the time.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 The Miami Herald