Juan Perez was one of several top law enforcers planning to speak Thursday about a big weapons and drug bust. But he couldn't keep a smile off his face and he spent a lot of time thanking people before discussing the haul.
One of Miami-Dade's worst-kept secrets was out: Perez, a 48-year-old husband and father with two children, was officially named the county's top cop.
"I'm humbled and honored," he said.
The 25-year veteran who began his career at the same Northside District that served as the backdrop for Thursday's news conference, had taken the role of acting director the past few months as Director J.D. Patterson readied for retirement.
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Perez takes the reins of one of the largest policing agencies in the southeastern United States, with more than 3,000 sworn personnel and close to 4,700 total employees.
Patterson, appointed by County Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2013, retires at the end of the week. And Perez, whose visibility has increased the past few months, takes over on Monday. His main goal: to continue to improve the department's relationship with the community and enhance technology.
"We are one of the great agencies of this nation,” the new director said Thursday. “Our goal is to continue to be a brand name and to continue to serve the community.”
The official announcement was made Thursday morning during a police graduation ceremony at Florida international University.
"I have confidence that Juan will lead the Miami-Dade Police Department in a manner that will make our world-class community proud," Gimenez said in a statement.
The appointment was also well received by John Rivera, president of Miami-Dade's Police Benevolent Association. Though Rivera couldn't resist using the announcement as another opportunity to take a swipe at Gimenez, who has been in a dog fight with union leaders over terse contract negotiations for two years.
"If Director Perez is allowed autonomy to run the Miami-Dade Police Department without interference from the mayor's office, then we have hope that he will continue the tradition of maintaining the Miami-Dade Police Department as the finest in the nation," Rivera said.
Perez, who began his MIami-Dade policing career in 1990, has served as a supervisor in several highly regarded areas, including police services, criminal investigations, homeland security and robbery.
As deputy director under Patterson, Perez had been groomed for the promotion the past several years. It was in front of a similar lectern to where Perez was standing Thursday at FIU, when his name catapulted into the public eye.
At a graduation ceremony in August 2014, as the police union and the Gimenez administration wrestled with contract negotiations, Perez pulled the badge off his uniform, placed it on the lectern and delivered a fiery speech urging the community to fight and help keep the jobs of the new officers, which were on the chopping block.
"Be loud. Be vocal," Perez said. "Don't let them go."
Some believed that Perez — clearly in line at the time to replace Patterson — had caused even more friction with the administration, which was threatening to lay off 250 cops if concessions were not agreed to. The officers kept their jobs. A new contract was never agreed to. And Perez quieted down, at least for a while.
The soon-to-be-director has been front and center recently at several high-profile cases, none more so than one in December. That’s when the county announced the arrest of 15-year-old Deandre Charles in the August 2014 murder of Rabbi Jospeh Raksin, gunned down walking to temple in Northeast Miami-Dade.
"Turn yourselves in or we will come get you," Perez said to the others police believe were involved with Raksin's murder.
On Thursday, though, Perez shook hands and gave thanks to all who wished him well during a press briefing explaining how a task force had captured 40 people on weapons and drug charges, confiscated 50 firearms — including homemade machine guns — and nabbed 10 kilos of cocaine and another nine of heroin.
Most of the arrests were in the county's Northside District, an area that law enforcement has converged on after a string of murders, many involving young teens.
At one point Carlos Canino, special agent in charge for Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, halted his presentation and looked at Perez.
"He's a true partner," Canino said. "A very good man."