Colorful and controversial, new police chief says we’re going to be the ‘Miami Love Boat’

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Charles Rabin
·4 min read
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Standing next to his wife and young son, Art Acevedo raised his right hand for the swearing-in ceremony Monday that made him the city of Miami’s sixth police chief in the past 11 years.

Acevedo, who took the Miami job after a four-year stint in Houston — one of the largest police forces in the nation — brought in an old friend from Texas, Judge Cliff Brown, to administer the oath of office.

That formality dispensed with, Acevedo grabbed a microphone and delivered some typically colorful, off-the-cuff remarks to the relatively sparse crowd that had gathered Monday morning in an auditorium next to downtown Miami police headquarters.

Acevedo — whose tight-knit Cuban family first came to Miami in the 1960s — promised not to be just the city’s “Cuban chief,” saying he would be all-inclusive in hiring and promotions and base it on merit, not race, gender, religion or ethnicity.

While he said he “loves” cops he also promised to call “balls and strikes.” And he had a pointed message about ethnic and race relations for the force of 1,400 officers he will lead.

“Don’t stand in the way. Especially if you’re wearing bars and stars and stripes. The train is going to run you over,” said Acevedo. “The ship is sailing. We’re going to be the Miami Love Boat. Let’s get to work.”

After stints leading the California Highway Patrol and police departments in Austin and Houston, Acevedo, 56, made Miami the latest high-profile law enforcement position he’s undertaken during his 35-year policing career.

He takes over a department rife with its own unique brand of ethnic politics and that just ended its second stint under federal oversight in the past two decades.

The most recent oversight, which ended in February, came after a series of police shootings in the past two decades that federal civil rights investigators determined were problematic. The consent decree between Miami and the feds led to changes in training and use-of-force techniques.

Acevedo is a social media savvy chief who last summer made headlines marching and kneeling with Black Lives Matter protesters while still fiercely defending Houston’s 5,000 sworn police officers and his department’s $1 billion budget. Miami is much smaller but may be even tougher to navigate, politically.

Outgoing Chief Jorge Colina, who saw the city through last summer’s protests, was often at odds with members of the the city’s Black police union, who claimed he didn’t promote Black officers enough and that he once used the “N” word during a training session in the 1990s. Acevedo is the city’s sixth chief in the past 11 years and the first hired from outside of Miami since John Timoney in 2003. Miami has not had a Black police chief since Calvin Ross resigned 27 years ago.

Acevedo has been meeting with staff the past week and spent most of last weekend driving around the city on police details with officers.

Despite accolades from Miami’s mayor and city manager, some in Miami’s Black community said they’re taking a “wait-and-see” approach with the new chief after having spoken with activists in Houston who claimed Acevedo tended to disappear after the cameras went away. They also are leery of an incident in Houston two years ago that made national headlines for the wrong reason. It involved a no-knock warrant case that went sideways and led to one of the country’s biggest policing scandals.

The no-knock warrant raid in Houston was botched after an officer obtained the document under false pretenses and put dozens of prosecutions — even one involving George Floyd — in jeopardy. Two suspects were killed in the ensuing shootout and four officers injured.

Still, on Monday city leaders responsible for his hiring — City Manager Arthur Noriega and Mayor Francis Suarez — offered nothing but praise during the ceremony. The hourlong affair only partially filled the seating at the Clarence Dickson Miami Police College Auditorium because the public was not invited due to the pandemic.

Noriega called Acevedo “accomplished,” “brilliant” and “demanding.”

“He leads from the front. Art is a true leader,” said the city manager.

Said Suarez: “We have just brought America’s best chief to our city.”