The Miami Herald reported last week that four officers — comprising one-third of the Biscayne Park police force — once told an outside investigator they were pressured to frame innocent people because their police chief was so determined to obtain a perfect crime-solving rate.
The investigation was ordered in 2014 by a Biscayne Park village manager after multiple officers contacted her.
Officer Omar Martinez refused to follow such orders, calling them “illegal and unethical” in his statement to the investigators. He later wrote to the village manager and said, “I will not arrest an innocent person to make the department look good.”
One of the four officers told the investigators they were specifically told to target black people.
Officer Anthony De La Torre said the officers were told, “If they have burglaries that are open cases that are not solved yet, if you see anybody black walking through our streets and they have somewhat of a record, arrest them so we can pin them for all the burglaries.”
De La Torre said, “They were basically doing this to have a 100% clearance rate for the city.”
The Miami Herald reported the police chief resigned in the midst of the investigation, after which crime-solving rates dropped:
Amid the probe, [former Biscayne Park Police Chief Raimundo] Atesiano abruptly resigned in 2014. Afterward, there was a stark change in village crime-busting statistics.
During his roughly two-year tenure as chief, 29 of 30 burglary cases were solved, including all 19 in 2013. In 2015, the year after he left, records show village cops did not clear a single one of 19 burglary cases.
The 2014 internal investigation became public after Atesiano and two officers were charged last month with conspiring to falsely arrest a black Haitian-American teenager for four unsolved 2013 burglaries.
In recent years, public sentiment towards police has become increasingly polarized and divisive, with many engaging in generalizations in their support of or opposition to the police.
Unfortunately, this situation is a strong example of why many communities have a strong distrust of police, and this story will only further support the unfair and inaccurate generalization that all police officers are bad.
Many police officers are more like De La Torre and Martinez than like Atesiano. They are well-intentioned officers who simply want to keep their fellow citizens safe and improve their local communities.
However, the bad apples in police squads are capable not just of abusing their power and destroying innocent lives but also of corrupting other officers via peer pressure and insistence on officer loyalty. Luckily, in this situation De La Torre and Martinez, as well as two other officers, had the courage to stand up for what they knew was right; they should be praised as an example.
Perhaps the most shocking and frustrating aspect of this story is that 52-year-old Atesiano has a pattern of corruption. The Miami Herald reported that in 2006, Atesiano was forced to resign after he forged a man’s name on a court notice for a marijuana arrest.
Two years later, Atesiano got a job with the Biscayne Park police force.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.