At Miami Port, Security Costs Surging

As police rake overtime, earning $180K salary, problem is lack of training, administrative confusion


The strategy more than doubled the overtime spending for 2005, raising it to $6.4 million from $2.9 million in 2004.

Oramus, who has since retired and recently worked as a technical consultant on the film Miami Vice, said his plan assigned tasks to "MDPD" because both the police and the port's nonsworn security guards worked under the police director at the time. In no way was it meant to assign all the work to sworn officers, Oramus said.

PORT EMPLOYEES NOW

The security guards have since been shifted, and are now technically Port of Miami-Dade employees.

"I've heard before that they blame the plan for all the overtime," Oramus said in an interview. "If that's the case, why didn't they just file an amendment and change the plan? It's very, very easy."

Oramus said that when he worked at the port, "we got a lot of resistance from the police," both MDPD and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, any time he tried to use the nonsworn guards to do even the most basic jobs, like directing traffic.

Capt. Suzanne Englebert, from the U.S. Coast Guard station in Miami, seemed incredulous when told that MDPD officials said they had to pay the overtime to abide by the plan. "The Facility Security Plan can be changed and amended at any time," she said. "It is not set in stone," she said.

Both Cooper, and newly appointed port director Bill Johnson, said that changes to the security plan have been submitted to the Coast Guard. If approved, many of the MDPD's current duties will be shifted to lower-paid security guards.

The Coast Guard received the plan, and has sent it back to the port for revisions unrelated to the division of labor among security forces, Englebert said.

County officials refused to show the plan to The Miami Herald, or even to quote from it because it is classified as "Security Sensitive Information." For the same reason, they declined to provide much detail about what the police officers do at the port.

But according to Towsley, two uniformed MDPD officers search each delivery truck heading toward a cruise ship. Police rules require the second officer to be present as backup. Since cruise ships load at odd hours, the pair is always on overtime, Towsley said.

"Why not have one sworn officer and one security guard? That's what they do at the airport," said Oramus, who also wrote the post 9/11 security plan from Miami International Airport.

Buckner, who worked more than 2,000 hours of overtime in 2005, searches trucks regularly. He said he has never found anything suspicious, but others have. "Mostly cocaine, though," not tools of terror, he said.

Another of the MDPD duties at the port is patrolling the cruise lines' busy passenger terminals. But the police don't check IDs or screen luggage. Those jobs go to sizable private security forces hired by the cruise lines.

'I HAVE A GUN'

"We take care of disturbances in the terminal when passengers get rowdy," Buckner said. "I have a gun, [cruise line security guards] don't."

Other security duties at the port are handled by federal and state agencies. Federal customs officers are charged with inspecting the large cargo containers, and screening passengers on ships arriving from overseas. Florida Fish and Wildlife patrols the waters of Government Cut, where the cruise ships dock.

MDPD officials who work at the port said the high percentage of port officers approaching retirement is a legacy from the days before 9/11, when the post was not a high priority.