For a few minutes last week, Key Biscayne’s chief of police found himself directing traffic on Crandon Boulevard.
“I haven’t done this in years,” said Frank Sousa, as he hopped out of a car and started helping other officers manage yet another vehicle breakdown on the island’s main thoroughfare. It was the second snarl in as many days on Crandon.
The traffic detail is just one reason why Sousa plans to recommend that the Village follow through on previous plans to increase the force by two full-time officers.
The Village Council has already approved funding for the officers as part of the 2022 budget, but it directed the administration to hold off on actually filling the positions until the new chief could assess the situation and determine if the posts were needed.
Sousa, now two months into his job, says he’s reached that conclusion. He said three current vacancies are having a real effect on operations, let alone progressing with new initiatives. The most recent vacancy took place last month, when a department veteran, Lt. Pete Zayas, retired.
“I am prepared to go to Council and explain why those positions are important to fill,” Sousa said. He may get the chance as early as Tuesday, when he delivers his regular report to the body.
“It’s not uncommon for a police officer to drive a police car for three hours, drive a motorcycle for four, and drive a boat for another two hours,” he said. “We are asking a lot.”
On traffic, officers made 292 stops over an eight-week period, with 90 bicycle citations, according to statistics provided by the Village. Sousa says that effort, along with a desire for additional visibility and community policing has to be balanced with vacation and overtime. During the September budget hearings, Deputy Chief Jason Younes said the new positions would lead to significant reductions in overtime.
Sousa also stressed the new positions will improve the ability to keep officers current with training. He says that in addition to preserving necessary skills, it aids with retention by offering officers a chance to grow in their careers.
The starting pay for new police officers is about $62,000, a figure Sousa said is competitive with other localities, but hiring additional staff has been a point of contention in the past for some Council members.
“We’re not just adding employees. We’re adding employees that are going to be part of the union contract,” said Council Member Ignacio Segurla during the September budget debate. “Those are very expensive employees to add.”
Vice Mayor Brett Moss, who voted against adding the two positions, says he’s confident Sousa will get them, if he can explain what residents will get in return for the additions.
“I don’t think it’s going to be controversial,” Moss said, saying Sousa is off to a great start as chief.
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.