Surfside’s police department was never exactly “Miami Vice” though it shares Collins Avenue and the Atlantic Ocean. Certainly the seaside town is not today’s “Hawaii Five-0,” either.
Indestructible commanders like Steve McGarrett are not chasing perps by leaping across rooftops in choreographed pursuit or defusing bombs that could wipe out a whole state.
Sure enough, former Surfside Police Chief Terrill Williamson once told the Miami Herald that police training in the community north of Miami Beach, population about 6,000, stressed citizen assistance.
“The little things help keep you professional. I think they’re just as important as making arrests,” Williamson told the Herald in 1982 — 20 years into his career with the department.
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One of his first initiatives as chief was to institute a walk-and-ride program where patrol officers would drive to an area and then patrol on foot. “We want to have close contact and high visibility with the residents,” Williamson said in 1984. “We want to find out what these people think, what ideas they have about police.”
Williamson, who died at 80 on Feb. 1, presided over Surfside for 36 years, the last 16 as police chief of the 23-member force before his retirement in 1998. He worked under six chiefs and 12 town managers before earning the top post. When he joined the department in 1962, he was 26, the youngest man on the force.
Williamson left with a personnel file packed with commendations from residents for his service, according to the Herald in 1997. Williamson was president of the Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police two years earlier, in 1995.
The oddest strike against Williamson? He enjoyed tuna melts — sans cheese — at the former Sheldon’s Drugs, a once popular lunch counter hangout on Harding Avenue.
Naturally, table mates would point out that without cheese, it’s not a tuna melt. “That’s what they keep telling me,” Williamson would respond in between bites of the hot sandwich.
“Chief Williamson served the people of the town with outstanding devotion, integrity and success during his long career here,” former Surfside mayor and attorney Paul Novack said in an email to city officials and the Herald earlier this month.
Williamson, a native of Hialeah who lived in Miami Gardens, born June 4, 1936, and graduated from Miami Edison High School. He earned his associate degree in criminal justice from Miami Dade College while walking a beat in Biscayne Park and earned his bachelor’s in the field from the former Biscayne College (now St. Thomas University).
Williamson had his modern McGarrett-like moments, though.
In a 1982 bust, he was the only officer fast enough to catch a loitering suspect who had been on the run for more than an hour along Harding Avenue. The subject, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, was immediately deported. In 1995, one of Williamson’s officers arrested a man who had 21 tightly wrapped kilos of cocaine under a blanket on a truck’s back seat. Street value: $1.2 million.
“It’s not what you call an average bust for Surfside,” Williamson told the Herald. It was the biggest bust he’d seen during his three-decade tenure. Williamson was also the first responder to arrive at the scene following the March 1966 kidnapping of Surfside resident Danny Goldman, a 17-year-old Miami Beach Senior High senior. Goldman was never found. The nearly 51-year-old case remains unsolved.
Williamson is survived by his wife, Gertrude Williamson; children Trudy Waters, Teresa, Terrill and Todd Williamson; and grandchildren Dale, Steve, Tonya and Keven. Services were held.