Miami Gardens Police Chief: Stop and Frisk-Style Record Keeping Was ‘Not the Right Avenue to Go’

The chief of the Miami Gardens Police Department (MGPD) has responded to Fusion’s “Suspect City” investigation, which found the South Florida agency using a “stop and frisk”-style program that may be unparalleled in the nation.

Chief Stephen Johnson responded to Fusion’s report yesterday, calling it a “small issue” related to the way the police department documented its citizens.

“What I found is that field contact forms were also used as citizen contacts,” the chief told Hot105 radio.

“They were also used to document suspicious persons, which hints why there were so many in number, so when you’re putting citizen contacts and suspicious persons on the same document to track information, it’s not the right avenue to go,” he said.​

Fusion’s review found that 56,922 people were stopped, questioned and written up in “field contact” reports by police a total of 99,980 times between 2008 and 2013. Not one of them was arrested as a result of the stop. Miami Gardens’ population is 110,000.

Thousands more were arrested after being stopped by the police, raising the total number of people ensnared by the policy to 65,328 during the five-year period.

Fusion found that the MGPD identified tens of thousands of people as “suspicious”–including an 11-year-old boy on his way to football practice.

Two officers from the MGPD told Fusion that high-ranking department officials gave them orders to “bring in the numbers” by conducting stops and arrests. One officer said he was ordered to stop all black males between 15 and 30 years of age.

Fusion’s analysis of more than 30,000 pages of “field contact” reports shows how aggressive and far-reaching the police actions were. Some residents were stopped, questioned and written up multiple times within minutes of each other, by different officers. Children were stopped by police in playgrounds. Senior citizens were stopped and questioned near their retirement home, including a 99-year-old man deemed to be “suspicious.” Officers even wrote a report identifying a five-year-old child as a “suspicious person.”

“That no longer exists,” Chief Stephen Johnson said on Talk Radio Hot105FM yesterday.

“I have attended every roll call and I’ve told officers I want quality field interview cards, not quantity,” he said. Johnson said field contact records collected by MGPD officers are the “wrong instrument to document citizens.”

Fusion spoke with several officers with the police department who wish to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. They say the chief’s word on this doesn’t go far enough.

​​”The community has to be reassured by actions,” one officer said. He believes there should be a community citizen review board put in place.

“There should be an oversight committee to monitor,” he said.

“The relationship has been broken,” he said. He added that training is needed for both the officers and the administration.

​​Another police officer ​at the department ​said by text message Monday night that “nothing has changed at MGPD.”

​Reverend Al Sharpton was incensed after reading the report, calling it “bad policing as well as bad civil rights. The more I read the more angered I got.”

This week, Rev. Sharpton was in Miami and called on community organizers to rally and demand change in Miami Gardens.

“The policy has to change immediately,” Sharpton said.

“If that does not happen,” he said, “there ought to be everything from the Justice Department to be called in, to lawsuits, to whatever is necessary.”

WHERE TO WATCH