Miami Gardens / Opa-locka

Miami Gardens

New Miami Gardens police chief gives out cell-phone number

Stephen Johnson, former North Miami city manager and police chief, has begun his role as Miami Gardens’ top cop.
Stephen Johnson, former North Miami city manager and police chief, has begun his role as Miami Gardens’ top cop.

At his first visit to a Miami Gardens City Council meeting, new Police Chief Stephen Johnson gave out his cell phone so residents can call him with concerns — asking only that residents not call past 12:30 a.m.

Johnson, 53, said that being accountable to residents is one of the first things he wants to achieve in his new role.

Johnson, who most recently served as North Miami’s city manager, is only the second police chief in the city’s history. He said a major part of how he wants to improve the relationship between residents and the police is by being more reachable than past leadership.

“I would like to become more accessible for the community,” Johnson said. “I want to be out there. I want my command staff to be with me.”

Johnson, who officially started his job last week, comes to the city at a somewhat tumultuous time for the police department. In 2013, the city had 23 murders which led to only eight arrests, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement data.

The cause for the murders and shooting incidents in the city aren’t a mystery to Johnson.

“The murders are gang-related and they’re retaliatory,” Johnson said.

He said that the department will continue to try to increase visibility and cooperation with the community to assist in solving crimes and getting information.

“We’re not going to stop crime, but [we] want to stop the number of incidents.” Johnson said.

Johnson’s appointment also comes after the retirements of both former Chief Matthew Boyd and his interim replacement, Paul Miller, shortly after the Miami Herald reported in November on allegations of harassment and stop-and-frisk tactics being used on patrons and an employee of the 207 Quickstop.

The new chief said he plans to change up some assignments in the department, which has plans to hire at least 10 new officers. And he hopes to appoint a deputy chief in a “reasonable amount of time.”

“I would like to take some time to assess the police department,” Johnson said. “There’s going to be some shifting around.”

Shifting around was a major part of Johnson’s nearly 25-year career with North Miami’s police department. He started as an officer in 1984 and became a detective three years later. He became a sergeant in 1994, where he served in the narcotics division and eventually moved up to become a major in 2003, according to his personnel file.

He became chief of North Miami’s force in 2010. While in charge, he was criticized for buying 43 replica police badges for then-Mayor Andre Pierre without the approval of the city manager. In performance evaluations, he was also chided over the years for submitting late police reports and correspondence with spelling and grammar errors.

His salary as chief will be $165,000.

As he settles into the new city he said he is thinking about moving into Miami Gardens and doing his personal business and shopping in the city. He also plans to bring in his “Not in my Backyard” (NIMBY) community campaign from his time in North Miami, aimed at getting residents to report crime when they see and hear it in their neighborhoods.

“I want the community to join in with me,” Johnson said, “to partner with me, to have a zero tolerance.”

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