Is it just me, or is anyone else in South Florida wondering what is up with South Florida law enforcement lately??
First, Officer David Britto of the Boynton Beach P.D. slipped off an electronic monitoring device and apparently fled to Brazil after being charged by federal authorities for drug offenses. How ironic that Britto was named Boynton Beach P.D.’s Officer of the Year for 2010! Next, Broward Deputy Sheriff Brent Woodell was charged with grand theft after stealing cash which was supposed to be used in his undercover street crime unit drug stings. Now, yesterday, Anthony V. Mangione, the leader of South Florida’s ICE unit (U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) has been arrested for possession of child pornography. How ironic that Mangione had often been the agent who appeared on news cameras to announce ICE arrests of people trafficking in child pornography!
This string of reports of police misconduct reminds me of the time I lived in New Orleans for law school from 1994-1997. Starting in the early 1990′s, New Orleans was the murder capital of the U.S., and the New Orleans P.D. earned the reputation for being one of the most corrupt departments in the country. A news report from 1994 tells the tale of how 9 New Orleans officers were charged by federal authorities for their roles in protecting drug dealers and large scale cocaine-dealing operations. Police corruption was so rampant that an outsider, Chief Pennington, had to be brought in to try to reform the police department. I could hardly believe my ears as I heard one of my criminal procedure professors, who happened to be the Appellate Chief of the US Attorney’s Office in New Orleans, tell stories about the on-going FBI investigation and how one officer, Len Davis, had been caught on tape ordering the hit on a New Orleans woman, Kim Groves, just because she filed a complaint of police brutality. Davis and others in his gang were eventually convicted of capital murder for her death. If you don’t believe me, just read this report about Len Davis and the 8 other officers.
Now, I’m not saying that South Florida is as bad as New Orleans was in 1994. Thankfully, no South Florida officer has gone so far as Len Davis and his gang, ordering the hit on a citizen they were supposed to “serve and protect.” But, has anyone stopped to think what could be the reason behind this recent string of police misconduct? Maybe there is something to what is going on now–something more than mere coincidence? Could it be that in these tough economic times, some police officers are struggling for money too, and that they’re doing whatever they can to supplement their income? A PBS report indicates that the New Orleans P.D. was one of the lowest paid in the country in the early 1990′s, and that the officers often had to supplement their official income by moonlighting on private security details. When I was a prosecutor in Broward, I knew many officers also supplemented their income by either working tons of overtime, or by moonlighting on private security details. Broward has had its fair share of overtime scandals reported in the news. You can read a couple of those reports from 2009 here and here.
Consider Britto and Wooddell for a minute. Most criminal defense attorneys know that drug and theft offenses are often committed for monetary reasons. Could it be that Britto and Wooddell were so underpaid that they decided to try to earn (or take) some on the side? Unfortunately, I cannot think of how economics would make Mangione commit the type of crime he was supposed to be preventing, but I do know this: South Florida police agencies are struggling to meet their budgets just like every other government agency out there. As recently as 2010, the Delray Beach P.D. faced hiring freezes and the Port Saint Lucie P.D. faced the prospect of lay-offs. And what does it say about the Fort Lauderdale P.D.’s economic health when a wealthy private citizen like Scott Rothstein is permitted to hire the department to provide personal around-the-clock protection?
Only days ago, the Palm Beach County Commission reportedly approved Palm Beach Sheriff Ken Jenne’s budgetary requests. Some people would say that PBSO was lucky. But maybe we should really be saying that WE, the citizens of South Florida, are the lucky ones.