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Exotic Dancer Mounting Miami Police Car Highlights Questionable Off-Duty Conduct

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Exotic Dancer Mounting Miami Police Car Highlights Questionable Off-Duty Conduct
More than a million dollars a month is paid to Miami police officers, often in cash, working what they call "extra duty assignments." NBC 6 Investigator Tony Pipitone found rules being broken and two independent investigations questioning whether officers and clubs are reporting all the money changing hands. (Published Wednesday, Sep 25, 2019 ) More than a million dollars a month is paid to Miami police officers, often in cash, working what... See More

More than a million dollars a month is paid to Miami police officers, often in cash, working what they call "extra duty assignments." NBC 6 Investigator Tony Pipitone found rules being broken and two independent investigations questioning whether officers and clubs are reporting all the money changing hands.

(Published Wednesday, Sep 25, 2019)

In a nightclub district where almost anything goes, off-duty Miami police officers, paid at least $45 by policy to maintain some semblance of order, have seen a lot over the years.

A surveillance video, obtained by NBC 6 Investigators, shows a couple officers standing by as an exotic dancer hops on the hood of a marked patrol car and does her thing outside of Club E11even.

The dancer slowly performed a wide-legged handstand on the police unit's push bumper and then – with the club's security director spotting her – tumbled to the concrete, avoiding injuring herself and narrowly missing a woman who was being released after a 30-minute detention by club security and Miami police.

That woman was not amused to see the video of the March 2018 incident.

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"Embarrassing, demoralizing and very traumatic," she said while fighting back tears. "I feel like I was being mocked."

Also not thrilled: the Fraternal Order of Police president Tommy Reyes.

"Yeah, that's not good," he said watching the video for the first time. "I definitely think an officer should not watch that. If anyone climbs on top of my police car, it would not end the same way," adding he may have charged the dancer, if any damage was done to the police unit.

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"Nobody's going to climb on top of my police car," Reyes said.

Reyes attributes the encounter to inexperience.

"We have young policemen," the union president said. "Sometimes, it's just age and a little bit of maturity and I'm sure after seeing that video, they won't let it happen again."

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While the incident may be a minor transgression, it could have ended in injury and lawsuits for the city.

"She could've broken her neck obviously she somersaulted over at that moment," the woman who had just been released in the video said, adding she could've gotten hurt too. "She could've done anything, anything is liable to happen in the moment."

It is emblematic of a bigger issue with Miami police working off-duty, according to a new draft report by the Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP), an independent board installed by voters in 2001 to conduct oversight of the police department.

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The panel, which reviews completed internal affairs investigations and other matters brought to their attention, issues recommendations and reports to the city and public.

"A Disturbing Pattern"

CIP staff listed some of the issues with off-duty police work in a draft report released to NBC 6 Investigators last week. "For the past two years, panel members noticed a disturbing pattern emerged and asked our staff to research incidents involving 'extra duty' assignments" (the city's term for calls involving off-duty police work). The panel counted at least 40 complaints in 2017 and 2018 made against off-duty officers.

In the draft report, which must be approved by the full panel before it is forwarded with recommendations to the city, the CIP staff detail their concerns saying officers:

• "routinely exceed" the 16-hour daily cap on regular, overtime and off-duty time. One officer worked more than 2,000 extra-duty hours in 2017. The maximum hours allowable for one year is 1,872.

• on occasion have been paid by both the city and off-duty employers for working the same hours - a situation that "may constitute larceny and official misconduct," according to the CIP staff.

• "make their secondary employment their first priority," adding in some cases exhibiting bias toward their off-duty employers and against citizens and the city.

• are paid directly by employers by check or cash, so "it is conceivable officers can run their own jobs and crews of officers at sites, completely out of view of MPD (Miami Police Department)."

The report found these concerns as well as poor record keeping and fragmented city oversight could be costing the city money.

"The notion that an officer can be paid in cash at the time of the work undermines the city's ability to ensure appropriate oversight and collect its administrative surcharge," the report states.

That surcharge of up to 10% of what the officers make is supposed to help reimburse the city for costs of administering the Special Events Unit that oversees off-duty employment and defray some of the costs of uniforms, equipment and vehicles the officers must utilize when working off-duty.

A 2016 report by the city's auditor general found officers were paid about $14 million a year and the city collected about $1.3 million a year during the 2014-2015 study period – the most recent years the city has produced numbers for.

The off-duty pay rate for officers has increased 42% since then, so if they are working the same number of hours, millions more are flowing into officers' bank accounts. (The city has yet to produce newer totals requested last week by the NBC 6 Investigators).

The CIP and auditor general found deficiencies in how the city tracks who is working, where they are working, how long they work, how much they are being paid and how much the city should receive.

The auditor found "procedures are inconsistent and increase the risk that surcharges and compensation amounts are inaccurate," leaving the city "unable to accurately reconcile compensation paid to officers with collected surcharge fees." The auditor general told NBC 6 Investigators a follow-up to the 2016 report is in the works and could be released soon.

Skirting the Regulation

The city forbids officers from "working bars" but our cameras spotted off-duty Miami police units on the sidewalks and streets around Club E11even and Club Space – the epicenter of Miami's window-rattling 24-hour club scene.

The CIP report said bars can "skirt the regulation" by hiring officers through third parites that are funded by the clubs in the area or in other cases through bar-adjacent valet parking lots.

The policy allows the city to cancel off-duty assignments that "detract from the department's professional stature."

Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo said an exotic dancer performing on a police car hood would certainly do that.

Even before the NBC 6 Investigators described the incident to him, Carollo had seen enough. He proposed an ordinance this month that would have banned bars from using third-party entities to pay police for off-duty work.

"We have a real problem, a serious problem with off-duty work as a whole," he said.

Carollo withdrew the proposed ordinance after police union members protested - saying he will reconsider after further investigation.

"Those officers are the private police force of these lounges, these bars," Carollo said. "They don't represent the average resident of the city of Miami any longer. They represent the interest of these alcohol establishments that hire them and give them money in cash or any other way."

When asked about Carollo's concerns, the union president says that's nonsense.

"We work for the city," Reyes said. "We don't work for them," adding officers working off-duty assist citizens or fellow officers in the case of an emergency.

Reyes says having officers in crowded areas, including near bars, is essential to public safety.

"You have all these situations where these active shooters are happening in bars or just outside of bars," Reyes noted, mentioning how six officers in Dayton, Ohio were able to confront and kill an active shooter in 32 seconds in the summer and how a deputy lost his life confronting the gunman at a country bar shooting in Thousand Oaks, California, likely saving the lives of others in the process.

Safety Issues for Officers

The NBC 6 Investigators also reviewed several complaints against off-duty officers and found there was no record that the officers in question had reported either by radio or in documentation that they were working extra duty – a status the department confirmed only after the complaint was filed.

"Some investigations were thwarted because of the inability to demonstrate where or for whom the officer was working," the CIP report found, adding it is also a safety concern because the department "must be able to locate officers in uniform in real time," whether on regular or extra duty assignments.

The board was also concerned about officers working more than 16 hours a day.

Records show the CIP has investigated officers for sleeping in their cars, which the CIP wrote "poses safety issues for the officers and diminishes the public's trust and image of police."

The report states a lack of sleep could increase crashes (the leading cause of death for officers) and "may impair judgment, cognitive skills and has health consequences." It cited a 2009 study finding those who stay awake for 20 to 25 hours perform tasks like someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent, higher than the legal limit.

Yet the panel found no officers were disciplined for working too many hours in 2017 and 2018, despite evidence of that policy violation being attainable, if only internal affairs investigators had sought it.

Consider the case of the exotic dancer mounting the patrol car.

After the woman who narrowly missed being struck by the dancer complained to internal affairs that her handcuffs were too tight during her 30-minute detention, investigators compiled a minute-by-minute log of the section of the video where she is standing between the two patrol cars.

In clearing the officer of any misconduct, an investigator described in detail what the woman was doing on the left side of the screen, noting she smiled at one point, but did not mention in the log or anywhere else in that investigation what the dancer was doing on the hood of a city-owned marked patrol car on the right – something that may have led to an investigation of the officers standing by as the show went on.

The CIP report states "the extra duty officers were entertained as the exotic dancer was videotaped performing a handstand on the hood of a marked Miami Police vehicle."

A Path Forward

The CIP reports also notes off-duty work has its benefits: added police services; quick access to police services, while on or off duty; and the security of having officers present.

It states "officers should be allowed to supplement their income in a responsible, safe and accountable manner."

But the report says "decisions concerning the proper deployment of public safety services should be made by the police chief and the city administration who are in the best position to make equitable decisions to promote safety, accountability and trust in the city and its police department."

The panel recommends the city obtain a software system that tracks off-duty employment and set up an office to administer the function. It says the city should unify on duty, extra duty and overtime accounting, which would reveal officers who may be working off-duty while being paid on duty, or working more than the maximum allowable hours. And it says the city should handle all aspects of the billing and payment, so officer no longer are handed cash.

Requests sent last week to interview Miami's police chief or his designee and sent this week to interview several of the officers involved in these incidents about the matter have not been fulfilled.

Representatives of the clubs have not responded to our requests for comment.

This story is from our sister station, NBC Miami. Click here for more investigative stories from NBC stations across the county.

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