Being Miami-Dade County’s top cop has never been a job for the faint of heart.
There’s the steady stream of phone calls, day and night.
The unyielding sense of worry – about growing crime and constant danger facing the rank and file.
The nagging fear that those closest to you are being neglected.
And when Miami-Dade Police Director Jim Loftus announced his early retirement Thursday, he was thinking about his two young daughters, that he did not want them to grow up with a half-time father.
“It’s one thing when you’re not there physically,’ he said. “But when you’re at a soccer game or a soccer practice and your kid come off the field and says, ‘Hey, did you see what I did out there,’ and the answer consistently is no because you’re on the telephone, that’s not a good answer.”
After nearly two years heading the county’s largest police department, Loftus, 56, held back tears as he spoke of his leaving.
“You can’t shut this place off at 5 o’clock,’’ he said. “It just doesn’t work that way. And if you do that, you’re cheating on the people who work here and you’re cheating the people you serve.”
Loftus’ announcement comes after a bruising political primary season that ended Tuesday when voters re-elected his boss, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who beat Commissioner Joe Martinez, the candidate of the police union, which sought to link the mayor to allegations of absentee ballot fraud.
A Miami-Dade police probe this month netted the arrest of two people accused of voter fraud involving absentee ballots.
But Loftus said he has been mulling the move for months, and insisted political pressures played no role in his decision to retire early.
“Let’s be real clear about this. My decision to leave here is my decision,” he said. “I’m not being ousted or encouraged to leave or discouraged from staying. It is my time.”
Said Gimenez: “I’ve asked the director to stay a number of times. I like him tremendously, I admire him tremendously, and this is his personal choice. We tried to talk him into staying longer."
A national search likely will be conducted, Gimenez said. Meanwhile, Miami-Dade assistant police directors Naim Erched and J.D. Patterson will oversee the department.
Many of the department’s officers remained devoted to Loftus, after trying times that included sharp salary cuts and the highly publicized killing of two officers in the line of duty.
“It’s a big blow to our department,” said Miami-Dade Detective Tomas Tundidor, of the organized crime bureau. “I’ve been on 23 years and he’s the best director we’ve ever had. I don’t even know if I can put in words. Everybody is just kind of shocked.”
At a press conference Thursday, Loftus wistfully called himself a “lousy son and a lousy brother,” saying he plans to spend more time with family in Pennsylvania. He also spoke candidly about yearning to spend time with his daughters as they enter their teens. The memories of his father dying of lung cancer when he was just 14 are still fresh.
The chief’s job certainly would not have gotten easier for Loftus.
Gimenez’s overall proposed 2013 budget for the police department calls for an overall cut of $5.7 million.