South Miami has a new police chief: Rene G. Landa.
The city had been without a police chief since August, when Orlando Martinez de Castro was forced out.
“It is really humbling,” said Landa, who has 34 years of law enforcement experience and has been acting chief since last year. “I’m very excited about the honor of the position they have given me. I have a lot of ideas. The main function is to work with my community hand in hand to resolve a lot of the problems that we might have and work together.”
Landa, 55, had previously served as a major in the department and took over as acting chief after de Castro's ouster. A majority of city commissioners decided at a special meeting that de Castro’s employment contract was no longer valid. The former chief has sued the city over the issue; the lawsuit is still pending.
City manager Steven Alexander appointed a blue-ribbon committee to help him narrow the field to finalists including: Chief Landa, current Miami Beach Police Chief Raymond Martinez, Hialeah police Maj. Raleigh Flowers, Coral Gables acting Chief Scott Masington, and Thomas Cannon, a former city of Miami assistant chief.
Ultimately, it was up to Alexander to recommend who the city’s next chief would be.
Mayor Philip Stoddard joined a unanimous City Commission in approving Alexander’s recommendation on Friday.
“His choice was really to keep Landa for stability or bring in one of the other guys to make some changes,” the mayor said. “And I think his decision was that stability was better for the department ultimately at this point.”
Alexander said that Landa’s “knowledge of the community and appreciation for it” distinguished him from the field of candidates.
The city manager maintained a highly visible hiring process, including interviews with the five finalists that were televised and webcast. Community members were also allowed to ask the candidates questions.
“With the prior chief, there was a lot of angst about what was going on in the police department with the chief and the divisive series of events relating to the police department,” Alexander said. “I thought that the more we wanted the public to see what was going on and follow the progress and candidates through the process, it would ease some of the anxiety of commission members.”
Landa started ‘staff walks’ while acting chief. The walks include uniformed officers walking through the community, along sidewalks and into businesses, asking residents about any issues or problems and handing out fliers.
“I want to carry this throughout the entire police department,” said Landa, an FIU graduate. “I want to go into the communities asking if they have any issues and get back to fundamentals of community policing and working with our citizens. We are all part of a team.”
The South Miami Police Department recently earned accreditation for the first time. The department includes 50 sworn officers and eight support staff.
“It’s really the work of all the guys in the police department,” Landa said. “These are guys that we call heroes that come in everyday and put their lives on the line to serve this community. They treat people the right way.”
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