Policing consultants hired by Key Biscayne’s administration heard complaints of selective enforcement and a growing sense of lawlessness Thursday at the first meeting of a task force that will help choose a new chief of police.
The discussion echoed recent community tensions that seem to have largely abated after a “surge” of costly nighttime patrols aimed at countering an uptick in youth crime.
“There is zero respect. And that has to be regained through policing,” said Robert Vernon, a former mayor.
“So, you want someone not to pander, to succumb to pressure from residents?” asked Jorge Colina, a former City of Miami police chief whose firm is leading the search process.
“Absolutely,” Vernon said, a comment that others echoed.
But Luis de la Cruz, a former council member, pushed back on the lawlessness narrative. “We need to pinch ourselves. We live in one of the safest communities in Florida,” he said. De la Cruz said increasing police visibility and community policing expertise should be the top requirement in a new chief.
Dava Tunis, a former Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge, asked why outgoing Chief Charles Press wasn’t being asked what qualities he would look for in a chief. “I would sit down and have lunch with him.”
Colina said he’d already done that.
Village Manager Steve Wiliamson said his goal is to hire a new chief by mid-September. He said he expects there will be 50 to 70 applications for what he described as his most important hiring decision.
The advisory panel is scheduled for two more public meetings, June 24 and July 1. The panel was formed by Williamson with members chosen by council members. There are no members with law enforcement experience nor are any rank-and-file police officers represented. Williamson forbade a reporter from continuing to make an audio recording of the meeting, which was not recorded by Village staff.
Colina said he will recommend to Williamson a community survey that will be bilingual and anonymous. Williamson’s goal is to have the survey emailed to residents Monday. The survey would be due June 30, with visits to schools and churches in the interim, with a community forum set for July 7. His firm is being paid $17,500 to help recruit candidates, according to records supplied by the Village.
Under the Village Charter, the manager makes the final decision on hiring. Press, who led the department for 17 years, leaves his post July 2.
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As for the task force comments about selective enforcement, Colina was careful to note that there is no evidence of that, but added it’s important to know if that is a widely-felt community concern or perception.
“It was a little bit of a theme,” he said.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.