J.D. Patterson may talk trash on the basketball court, but he preaches peace as a church minister and keeps a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. in his pocket.
That sums up the tough-love approach to keeping the peace that on Friday earned the Miami native and 30-year veteran of the Miami-Dade Police Department a major promotion. County Mayor Carlos Gimenez named him director of a 2,800-member force that ranks as the eighth-largest department in the Southeastern United States — and as one of the most challenging police jobs anywhere.
Patterson, with wife Carol at his side and surrounded by family, friends and dozens of fellow officers at a ceremony at County Hall, said he was humbled by the opportunity to lead “one of the finest departments in the nation.’’
He said his two biggest priorities were dealing with a lack of resources and addressing violent street crime. As a licensed minister at Model City’s Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, Patterson said his goal was always to resolve conflict without violence.
“When I play basketball I start talking trash like I’m in the NBA,” Patterson told the crowd. “But after the game is over, it’s over. So put down the guns. This is not a war zone; it’s a city. If I can resolve conflict in a nonviolent way, I would do that in a heartbeat.”
The department has been without a director since August, a delay that Gimenez explained in introducing Patterson, whose appointment will be confirmed by County Commission vote on Tuesday.
“I know it took some time for me to make this decision, but we wanted to make the right one,” said Gimenez. “J.D. has a long and distinguished career in law enforcement. He rose through the ranks.”
Patterson, 52, has been acting chief since Jim Loftus announced a surprise retirement. Patterson, an assistant police director since 2004, has served in supervisory jobs from Kendall to the county’s north end, working in a variety of roles from sex crime investigations to internal affairs.
Married for 28 years with two daughters, Patterson is a native with deep roots in the community. He graduated from Jackson High and Barry University and earned a master’s degree from the University of Miami. He also attended the FBI training center in Quantico, Va.
The appointment was greeted with a thumbs-up all-round
“We support the mayor’s decision. We work very well with the new director,” said Miami-Dade police union president John Rivera. “He has a steady presence and he has the experience and training to get the job done.”
Carmen Caldwell, executive director of Citizens Crime Watch of Miami-Dade, also praised the hiring.
“I’ve known Director Patterson since he was a sergeant. He’s so community oriented. I’m thrilled,” Caldwell said. “The department got a good deal.”
If there is an issue with the appointment, it’s that Patterson, who will become the department’s 34th director, won’t become a long-term fixture in his new position. He has already entered a retirement program and has no choice but to retire in three years.
Still, Patterson and Gimenez don’t see that as a problem. With more than half the command staff in the same retirement program, both acknowledged that there will big changes in future leadership. The new director said he’ll be instrumental in finding his successor.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” Patterson said. “The staff needs a change, and it will get one.”