Controversy continues as new police chief takes the helm

caines | 3/28/2013, 5:30 a.m.

City manager: Keys in charge; Im weighing my options on deputy chief When rumors began to surface a few weeks ago that the City of Opa-locka had hired Jeffrey Key as its new police chief, one person that was surprised by the news was Opa-lockas City Manager Kelvin L. Baker, Sr. But there was even more confusion afoot as North Miamis Mayor Andre Pierre not only sent a note that included his congratulations to Key, but also included the caveat that Officer Peter Cruz [a policeman for North Miami] had been tagged as Opa-lockas new deputy chief of police. Now we know that half of the story was indeed accurate, given that Key began his first day on the job last Monday. As for Cruz, a 28-year veteran who retired from the North Miami police department in early March, his status remains in limbo at least with the City of Opa-locka. But critics believe that he may not be the best person for the job, given his alleged lengthy internal affairs file. Baker added that former Chief Cheryl Cason had settled a lawsuit that she had filed against the City and that part of the terms included her resignation. At some point I will have to resolve the issue of filling the position of deputy chief but first I want to work closely with the new chief [Key] and to get his views, Baker said. There are a lot of eligible individuals but because Key is a law enforcement professional, Im sure he has his own ideas in terms of who should be number two in the department. Well figure it out. When, I cant say.

Baker says he followed City charter not public sentiment

Questions have been raised by citizens of Miami-Dade County as to why there was no public announcement about the chiefs job. Others have asked why Baker didnt allow for a public hearing so that voters could have their say before the position was filled. Baker points to the City charter which states, The head of the city police department shall be known as the chief of police. He shall be appointed by and serve at the will of the city manager. Our charter follows that of many cities and counties in Florida that means in my role as city manager I appoint all department heads, like the fire chief, the police chief and other senior executive positions, Baker added. And while I did once state that it would take some time before I was prepared to appoint a new chief, after further analysis I saw a need to put someone in place immediately. I held a press conference last week to clarify where I stood and how we were moving forward. It was only fair to let the public know that there would be no local search needed because the person that I believed could best handle the job had been hired.

Keys early training came at hands of former chief

Jeffrey Key, 52, has been in law enforcement for 24 years. Now as he takes over a department that has seen 12 chiefs come and go in the past 20 years, he knows that he has his hands full. Before my years with North Miami, I first started in communications as a dispatcher for the Opa-locka police, he said. Chief Cason motivated me early in my career and encouraged me to become a police officer. She was my field training officer for phase one. That makes it especially meaningful to have her pass the gavel on to me. What changes will Key bring to Opa-locka a city whose police radius only encompasses four square miles [16.1 miles] but once had the highest murder rate per capita in the U.S. [1986-88]? I think things are already changing for the better in Opa-locka and I intend to be part of that change, he said. At the Mayors state of the city address in January, I actually got excited about the new developments like reconfiguring the Triangle and changing its name to Magnolia North. Years ago we had a lot of rental properties and many citizens were in transit to another place. Now we have more homeowners and that means people have a vested interest in the City. That makes my job easier. Some of my immediate goals include: increasing personnel so that we are fully staffed; re-establishing a K-9 unit; returning this department to basic policing strategies and principles; and re-wiring personnel so that we have a change in the culture and better morale. But what about crime and the rise in gang violence? Key says that while he would use the word clique rather than gang, he says they are still dangerous and that he has a plan. We have groups of homeboys who are out to make fast money, he said. When that goal is threatened thats when we see the spike in violence. In the past they used mostly 9-millimeter handguns today they have assault weapons. That makes for real intimidation and keeps people, including those who threaten their money, afraid. And while it is his job to lock up criminals, he says that the current prison system is not about rehabilitation. Prison is a place thats all about survival of the fittest, he said. When people come out they are angrier and meaner. Few of us will ever know what they encountered behind bars. Many men were taken advantage of [sexually] while some became expert predators. If we dont change their world while theyre behind bars, we will continue to have some damaged and dangerous people being returned to their communities when their time has been served. Baker added that Antonio Sanchez is still on the payroll for the Opa-locka police department and is technically the deputy chief. He was unable to say if Sanchez will continue in that capacity. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com