Embattled Miami Police Chief Acevedo needs a course correction, not firing | Editorial

·6 min read

Just six months after he arrived, Miami’s new Police Chief Art Acevedo faces a public dressing-down, a move that this weekend he compared to communist Cuba. We think the chief generally has been good for Miami. We don’t think he has committed any firing offenses. Still, he needs to chat with his bosses at City Hall.

Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo has requested a Monday special commission meeting to address Acevedo’s behavior and his string of gaffes. Indications from an eight-page memo Acevedo sent to City Hall, revealed by the Miami Herald, Acevedo plans to defend himself with his own accusations of alleged misconduct by some commissioners related to an internal investigation, the memo alleges. It should be a spirited commission meeting.

But the fact remains that since the chief’s swearing-in about 180 days ago, Acevedo has committed a series of unforced errors:

He started out by criticizing the offices of State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez, implying they were not doing their jobs during the pandemic. They were. Then he picked on local judges, hinting that during the pandemic, courtrooms took too long to get back to normal and start prosecuting criminals. Then he was photographed with a Proud Boy. Then he was captured making gang signs. Then he glad-handed and fist-pumped his way through the recent anti-Castro demonstration in Miami, scoring great press.

There’s more. He questioned Gov. Ron DeSantis on national television over the state’s mask mandate, the right sentiment, but a dangerous move. “He did that on his own, putting the city of Miami in a position where the governor could deny us money,” Carollo said.

But in Miami, Acevedo’s most egregious offense was saying at a recent morning roll call the department was run by the “Cuban Mafia.” The term had been a Fidel Castro favorite as an insult to Miami’s exile community, implying they are all criminals. Feathers were ruffled, and rightly so.

Acevedo, himself born in Cuba, declined to comment for this editorial. He apologized on Twitter and said he meant it as a joke, and explained he grew up in Los Angeles and was unaware of the term’s Castro connection.

For Carollo, that was the final straw of Acevedo’s bad summer. He thinks Acevedo wants to run for Miami-Dade County sheriff, a position that will become an elected one in two years. Carollo says the chief is campaigning now. The chief has not publicly revealed his political ambitions.

Who’s the boss?

“Chief Acevedo has to understand that he works for us and if he has political aspirations, he can’t use the position of police chief to advance that wish,” Carollo told the Board, a typical sentiment of any boss. “We hired him to be the top administrator, not to campaign and attract all this media attention to himself.”

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and City Manager Art Noriega did Acevedo no favors when they hired him in a secret deal. They bypassed candidates, many internal, who had gone through the formal process to land the top cop job.

Suarez has maintained to the Editorial Board that the cloak of darkness was necessary. “Acevedo was a qualified, high-profile police chief often giving his opinion on CNN,” Suarez said. “ It had to be done that way.”

Now, though, Suarez has been publicly cautious about Acevedo’s bind. If he still supports Acevedo, Monday is the day to speak up. Ditto for City Manager Noriega, Acevedo’s direct boss.

We think the root of some of Acevedo’s current problems stem from that original deal, which undermined Acevedo’s legitimacy and angered many in the 1,400-member department. It appears that he has failed to gain the support of the rank and file, and the results of a union vote will be released soon and reveal if Acevedo can win a vote of confidence.

But, his antics aside, Acevedo is just what the Miami police department needs — an outsider who shakes up the status quo on the inside, especially by holding his officers and administrators accountable to the public. As reported by the Herald’s Charles Rabin, Acevedo contacted the U.S. Department of Justice to review the city’s internal-affairs process and some questionable uses-of-force by officers.

Though Carollo has made a solid case to the Board for a public airing of grievances, the special meeting should be a learning experience, not an inquisition. Acevedo has gone astray at times and made troubling missteps, but none of them is a firing offense. In addition, Acevedo’s supposed political ambitions are irrelevant.

Commissioner insulted

The commission can take some action, however. A recommendation to terminate him is unwarranted. A performance plan could be the way forward and allow him to course-correct. A show of contrition from Acevedo could also be helpful.

Commissioner Manolo Reyes, who voted against approving the hiring Acevedo, says he was insulted by the “Cuban Mafia” comment. “I spoke to the chief about it, and he assured me he meant it as a joke,” Reyes said. “It would be bad for the city to have a new chief fired.” Reyes is right.

Acevedo is also facing accusations that he has retaliated against those who oppose him in the department. He fired a popular high-ranking couple for covering up a car accident in a cruiser, where a pedestrian was almost struck. To us, the chief acted responsibly. Acevedo has reassigned other officers. But, to some degree, that is typical of any new administration.

It’s obvious Acevedo has angered some powerful members of his department and, yes, they have knives out for him, Miami-style. They, too, are overstepping their roles and acting as if they own the city, which they don’t. Taxpayers do. Acevedo’s own rank and file have been dropping dimes on him. The chief should watch his back.

Here’s what should happen Monday: The commission has no power to fire Acevedo, only the city manager can do it. Noriega did not respond to an email from the Board.

Acevedo should explain his missteps — for instance, what does his photo-op with a white-nationalist Proud Boy convey to Black Miamians?

He should then become a low-profile chief, publicly commenting only on crime-fighting issues. And those within the department with a grudge against him should give Acevedo a chance. If he’s a change agent and the department and the public benefit, they need to roll with it.

Then everyone should just get back to work.

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