Interim Chief Karen Dietrich is making whirlwind changes to the command staff at the embattled Fort Lauderdale Police Department in the wake of criticism over how the agency handled recent street protests.
Those changes came Tuesday morning, less than two weeks after the exit of Rick Maglione as the department’s top cop.
“We’ve had the same people in the same position for a long time,” Dietrich told the South Florida Sun Sentinel from her second-floor office. “You have to shake things up. I can’t say that no one was upset. People get comfortable in the positions they’re in. Two things cops hate the most: Change and the status quo. But when we’re uncomfortable, that’s when we’re growing the most.”
Dietrich, who was one of Maglione’s assistant chiefs, is taking the helm during one of the most turbulent times in the agency’s history.
No one was demoted, but several members of the command staff — 14 in all — were moved into other roles. Dietrich says she made those organizational changes to pave the way for reform that will in turn lead to widespread cultural change within the department.
Dietrich promoted department veterans Gregory Salters and Frank Sousa to interim assistant chiefs. Assistant Chiefs Luis Alvarez and Doug MacDougall are keeping their rank.
“I know just about everybody who works here,” said Dietrich, who joined the agency 30 years ago. “I know their strengths. I know their weaknesses. I wanted to make sure since we are making changes, we are starting at the top. I looked at the entire command staff and where they would best fit to move the department forward.”
Maglione, who’d been chief since January 2017, is still working at the department in another role. Now he’s a police major in charge of the investigations bureau. A clause in his contract required the city to keep him employed in some capacity if he were ever removed as chief.
Maglione was removed from his post as top cop on July 9 by City Manager Lagerbloom, who said it was time for the department to be led by someone with a new vision.
Lagerbloom has declined to reveal exactly what prompted him to demote Maglione.
On Tuesday, Dietrich said it was a decision made by the city manager, one she could not shed more light on.
Maglione’s tenure was rocked by local protests that broke out after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
On May 31, a protest against police brutality in downtown Fort Lauderdale turned ugly, with officers armed with long guns, rubber bullets and tear gas facing off against and protesters chanting slogans and, in some cases, hurling water bottles, rocks and bricks, according to Dietrich.
That day, protester LaToya Ratlieff was shot in the face with a rubber bullet fired by Detective Eliezer Ramos. Earlier in the day, Officer Steven Pohorence was caught on video shoving a kneeling Black female protester to the ground. Pohorence was relieved of duty and now faces charges of misdemeanor battery.
With the department facing fierce criticism, Maglione sent out a public message on the Fourth of July hailing his officers as heroes.
Lagerbloom has appointed Dietrich to serve as interim chief while Fort Lauderdale conducts a search for a new police chief.
If Dietrich gets the chief’s job, Salters and Sousa will no longer be considered interim. If she doesn’t, they will lose their rank as assistant chiefs.
“If I go back, they go back,” Dietrich said.
Susannah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4554 or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan
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