A Dade County grand jury, which has indicted four policemen for manslaughter since December, charged today that police training in Miami has placed "entirely too much emphasis" on guns.
The jury, at the end of an unusual investigation, urged tighter restrictions in Florida law on the use of guns against fleeing felons. It also called for basic changes in Miami's field training, which it called "substandard at best," to emphasize patience and restraint rather than force. "Training in communications skills is at least, if not more, important than training in firearms proficiency," the 18-member jury said.
The jury's findings and recommendations came after a 10-week investigation into use of force by Miami and Dade County police.
Although it has no binding legal power, the report's biting criticism of Miami police forces is likely to add fuel to a debate over police conduct here. The debate has grown sharply since a Hispanic officer killed a black youth in Miami's Overtown section last December, setting off three days of street unrest.
Neither the Miami nor the Dade County police departments had any comment on today's report. But Miami Chief Kenneth Harms, in an interview in Monday's Miami News, said he is "literally quite tired" of hearing police blamed for the results of difficult social problems.
"We're a superior organization, not second-class, and we want to be treated like one," he said.
All four victims of recent police shootings were black. This has encouraged charges by Miami's black leaders that police use guns unnecessarily often in black neighborhoods because of racial prejudice.
The jury pointed two facts of life in Miami that have been cited by studies of other police departments as likely to contribute to police shootings. First, the city has a high crime rate, including a high number of incidents of violent crime in connection with the flourishing international drug trade. Second, the city and county forces are relatively young, with recruits averaging 24 years old.
"Thus, the limited research that has been done does in fact suggest that Dade County is prone to a higher than average rate of police use of deadly force, due to our relatively high level of violent crime and the numerous young and inexperienced policemen on our police departments," the grand jury's report said.
To counter these disadvantages, the jury urged a change in "philosophy" in police training to stress restraint and an end to the "insidious" practice of having field training conducted by officers only six months or a year after graduating from the police academy.
The jury also called on the police departments to ban use of "cocked" revolvers--with the hammer pulled back to make the trigger lighter to pull--and told the city to abandon plans to buy a $600,000 simulator to train officers when to shoot. Training should concentrate instead on how to avoid getting to the point when that decision is necessary, it added.