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North Miami names Leonard Burgess as new police chief

North Miami City Manager Aleem Ghany has appointed Leonard Burgess as police chief, a move that almost all residents who spoke at the last City Council meeting wanted to happen.

Ghany said Thursday that he considered three candidates from within the North Miami Police Department, each of whom stood out in different ways. He said he decided on Burgess because of his experience, which includes being the interim police chief.

Former City Manager Stephen Johnson appointed Burgess as interim chief in February after Marc Elias resigned from the position.

“I was swayed to Lenny because he’s been in the position,” Ghany said. “It gave him the upper hand.”

Ghany’s decision was announced Wednesday, and is to take effect Sunday.

Burgess said he was humbled and pleased to accept the assignment from the department where his career began.

His started in law enforcement in North Miami in 1984. Burgess said he was the department’s first black motorcycle officer at the time. He said that from 1984 to 1988 he was able to see the culture and the makeup of the city.

“There was a time I couldn’t write a ticket on the east side,” Burgess said, referring to the historically white part of town.

His rise through the ranks of law-enforcement agencies in the county helped prepare him for his new role, he said.

Burgess returned to the North Miami Police Department as a major in October 2010. He was appointed assistant chief in December 2011.

Before that, he was the deputy director of the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department, the sixth-largest jail system in the United States, with more than 2,500 employees.

He was with the county’s police department from November 1988 to October 2008. When he left, he was division chief of the Special Investigations Division.

“All my experiences put me in an excellent position to handle and be responsive in any type of community,” Burgess said. “Like sending your kid to college for four years and they come back. I felt like I was sent to college for 29 years and now I’m back.”

Ghany said Burgess’ academic experience with law enforcement also made him stand out. He is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute Command Officers Course at the University of Louisville, and of the Senior Management Institute for Police Executives at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“Being a Harvard candidate is very prestigious,” Ghany said.

Burgess has also served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The new chief will have a free hand in running the police department, Ghany said. However, he said it is important for the community to see their police officers at work.

“I am not going to interfere with my directors or my police chief,” Ghany said. “But the motto of protecting and serving is important. I want to emphasize the police presence in our community. I want that presence felt in North Miami.”

Burgess said being present in the community is a part of his “holistic approach to policing.” The department will use high-visibility enforcement in concentrated areas where there are large groups of children and citizens.

“My whole concept now is about prevention and intervention to keep children out of jails,” Burgess said.

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