Village Manager Steve Williamson is down to a list of seven finalists for Key Bicayne’s top cop. Among them are commanders from Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami and the Fort Lauderdale police forces.
Williamson said he expects to make a final decision by October to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Chief Charles Press last month. Under the Village Charter, the manager makes the final decision on hiring department heads. Additional interviews are scheduled this week.
The seven candidates heading into interviews are:
- Freddie Cruz, City of Miami police commander. Cruz, a former police media relations chief, now is a commander in Little Havana, saying he feels he can “bring residents the white glove service they deserve.”
- David De La Espriella, Miami Beach police major, criminal investigations division, said his experience with a similar community would be beneficial. “There is a uniqueness to island policing.” As a leader of the county police chief’s association, he created an accountability committee headed by Press and was seen in a widely-circulated photo of Miami chiefs kneeling after the killing of George Floyd.
- Antonio Diaz, a City of Miami police major and head of special investigations. He said his former assignment in the Brickell/Roads area gave him experience in managing Causeway traffic, especially during events and occasional safety shutdowns. He said it was important to meet resident expectations. “We called it the Brickell Way. How you wear your uniform, how you speak, the area demands it.”
- Thomas “Pat” Hanlon, assistant director, Miami-Dade County police, said he had often worked with Press and said his experience over nearly four decades would help with multi-agency solutions. “That is a forte of mine, bringing in other agencies, and my contacts with not just law enforcement but county government.”
- David Magnusson, El Portal police chief, former City of Miami major, said that police interaction with village programs is a way to build strong community programs, and considers himself a unifier. “Both sides in a debate can be right. How you thread the needle is important.”
- James Somohano, Miami Shores police lieutenant, and a former major in Hialeah. He said he hoped to pioneer new ideas in Key Biscayne. “I’m a people person and I love to mentor.”
- Frank Sousa, Fort Lauderdale’s interim assistant chief of police, said his trilingual skills (Spanish, Portuguese) would be helpful in Key Biscayne and feels he already has a Key Biscayne connection because St. Agnes pastor Fr. J.C. Paguaga performed his marriage ceremony. “It’s a gem of a community,” he said. “I lead by example. It’s about customer service and being service-oriented.”
Key Biscayne interim chief Jason Younes earlier said he did not want to be a candidate for the position. Williamson gave high marks to Younes, saying he’s proven to be a strong operations chief, a capability he expected would allow the new chief to devote more time to community engagement and other goals.
Some of the initial 28 applicants for the post came from as far away as Wisconsin, Connecticut, and Virginia, but Williamson said having all local candidates ensures a chief with ties to neighoring police forces. A chief with local ties is a plus, Williamson said, because KBPD often must rely on specialized assets, such as aviation, from other departments.
There were only two female applicants for the position, which was advertised with a starting salary range of $150,000 to $180,000.
“I really had hoped we would have a female finalist,” Williamson said, noting the initial screening was done by a panel of police professionals. He said he will evaluate the remaining applicants personally in multiple interviews.
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.