MIAMI — The arrest of Miami police officers last week on murder and drug-trafficking charges is the latest scandal to hit what law enforcement officials call the department's "Mariel generation," officers hired at a time when standards were relaxed.
The officers were accepted during the effort to strengthen the force after the 1980 "freedom flotilla" boatlift brought 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel, Cuba, including more than 5,000 criminals from the island's prisons.
In all, a dozen current and former Miami officers recruited to fight the ensuing crime wave in South Florida have been arrested, suspended or fired this year for crimes ranging from drug possession to first-degree murder.
And more officers are under investigation for a series of "home invasions," in which armed men seeking drugs or cash enter homes and terrorize the occupants, said Lew Wilson, assistant chief of the Southern Region for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Force Expanded Rapidly
Police officials say that rapid expansion of the force, coupled with pressure to increase minority hiring in the early 1980s, led the department to relax its standards, letting in candidates who might otherwise have been rejected.
"After the boatlift, we had to put people on the streets," department spokesman Reginald Roundtree said. He estimated that the department's 1,065 officers include at least 400, of various ethnic backgrounds, who were hired in the first years after the boatlift.
But Roundtree emphasized that most of the Mariel generation are "very good, competent police officers."
"There is nothing wrong with minority hiring," said Sgt. James Cox, president of the Police Benevolent Assn. "But you have to hire the best, even if you have to go recruit at colleges."
Panel Reviewing Standards
Roundtree said the department has stopped hiring while it reviews its recruiting standards. A review committee set up in October is expected to deliver its report at the beginning of the new year.
Cox, a 27-year veteran, said increased temptation also is to blame for the scandals in the nation's No. 1 entry point for smuggled drugs.
He recalled that when he was on the vice squad 10 years ago, "street policemen never saw kilos of cocaine and people carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars. The biggest thing we ever had was a boatload of marijuana."
Last week's arrests and charges were the most serious to hit the department this year.
Charged in Deaths
Three officers were arrested Friday and charged with the first-degree murder of three suspected drug dealers on July 28. The victims' bodies were found floating in the Miami River.
The officers charged with murder and two other officers, including one who recently resigned, also were charged with trafficking in cocaine. The ex-officer was still at large Saturday.
In an unrelated case Thursday, two officers were arrested and charged with trafficking in cocaine seized by the police.
Two other Miami officers were arrested earlier this month on cocaine charges. Two more were relieved of duty in connection with the investigation of the Oct. 9 theft of $150,000 from a police safe; Roundtree said one was later reinstated.
An officer and a retired officer were arrested in August and accused of selling weapons to undercover agents.