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Miami cops cite COVID, ditch plan to attend Biden presidential inauguration next week

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 1/12/2021 Charles Rabin, The Miami Herald

Jan. 12—Like recent past inaugurations, a contingency of police officers from South Florida will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to bolster security by mostly assisting with basic traffic details. Before deployment, the officers are sworn in as U.S. Marshals for the day, giving them legal cover to operate on federal property.

But this year, Miami police have decided to end a tradition that dates back to 2004 when George W. Bush was sworn in for a second term. The department will keep its four dozen officers home.

The decision not to attend the inauguration of Joseph Biden as the nation's 46th president, though, has nothing to do with last week's failed insurrection in which thousands of marauding supporters of President Donald J. Trump, upset with the election result, ransacked the Capitol Building in an attempt to stop the electoral vote certification. In the melee, Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick was killed.

Rather, the decision was made several months ago by Miami police brass who feared that the still-raging pandemic could thin the ranks enough that the officers would be needed more urgently in Miami.

"Because of COVID and travel restrictions and because we didn't how many people we'd be short in Miami," said Deputy Police Chief Ron Papier. "We made that decision well before the unrest at the Capitol."

Still, some other local agencies have weighed the pros and cons of traveling during the pandemic and a potential uprising and decided the tradition will continue.

Florida International University plans to send a few dozen officers, and Miami Beach police said a contingency of 50 cops will head to the nation's capital next week. Beach Police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said his officers will wear face coverings and practice social distancing whenever possible.

"As far as security concerns, we are in constant communication with our local and federal partners coordinating the inauguration," Rodriguez said. "Safety is always our number one priority."

And as they have for the past three inaugurations, Miami-Dade police plan on sending 45 officers, most of them members of the department's Rapid Deployment Force, a specialized counterterrorism unit. Officers will be tested for the coronavirus before they leave for Washington and after they return.

As for being deployed after last week's uprising and with the threat of continued violent protests — that's even more reason to head north, said Ed Caneva, chief of the department's Strategic Response Division.

"We understand the complexities of these events and the potential public safety challenges that could rapidly arise and escalate to include civil unrest," Caneva said, adding that his tactical unit specializes in "training to address civil unrest and de-escalate volatile situations."

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