Miami Sgt. Javier Ortiz, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, speaks at the city budget meeting on Sept. 12, 2013.
A day after Miami’s police chief banned officers from carrying guns into City Hall, the police union fired back, challenging the rule as a violation of federal law and officers’ rights.
The Fraternal Order of Police’s attorney fired off an email to city officials Wednesday challenging the new rule that bans all officers, whether on duty or off, from carrying their guns into city commission or board meetings unless they are responding to a call or assigned to City Hall.
The union is demanding to bargain over the new rule and how it’s carried out.
Union members believe the policy is retaliation for a February protest at City Hall during which officers flooded the commission chambers demanding that cuts to their benefits be restored.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Police Chief Manuel Orosa said during the unruly protest that people in the audience, including city employees, feared for their safety.
On Wednesday, local FOP President Javier Ortiz called the new policy an embarrassment to Miami. He said city leaders should trust their trained officers to carry guns in any situation.
“If things were so bad at City Hall that day, why wasn’t there one 911 call made?” asked the outspoken union leader, who is organizing another protest on March 27, the date of the next commission meeting.
According to the edict handed down by Orosa on Tuesday, officers must leave their guns in their cars or with a sergeant-at-arms inside City Hall while a meeting is in session.
Eugene Gibbons, the attorney for the FOP local, said the new policy is unclear as to how officers should safely store their guns in their vehicles and who is responsible should someone break into an officer’s car and steal a firearm.
As for the rule extending to cops who are not on the clock, Gibbons said Orosa does not have the authority to infringe on an officer’s rights to carry a concealed weapon, citing the federal Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act. The act allows officers to carry concealed firearms in public spaces nationwide as long as it does not conflict with any state or federal laws.
In this case, Gibbons said, Orosa’s “weak administrative rule” cannot supersede the federal mandate.
“I can control the use of our city guns; I have that responsibility and authority,” the chief said Wednesday. “I also have the responsibility and authority to control the behavior of officers whether they are on or off duty.”
Orosa said that when officers visit City Hall they can secure guns in the trunks of their cars.
“If something happens to their weapon, it's their responsibility, like any other piece of city equipment,” the chief said.
If a weapon is stolen while secured, he said, an officer will not be disciplined.
Other local municipalities such as Miami Beach, North Miami and Doral do not restrict their officers from attending official meetings with their firearms.
Doral Police Chief Richard Blom said he welcomed the officers in the event of a threat during public meetings.
“To me, it protects the general public,” Blom said.
Miami Herald intern Philippe Buteau and staff writers Joey Flechas and Christina Veiga contributed to this report.