There’s a new “sheriff” in the town. Rodolfo “Rudy” Llanes became Miami’s new police chief last month. He seems just the person needed to continue the rehabilitation work started by Manuel Orosa, one of the city’s few chiefs to retire on his own in recent years.
Chief Llanes, 48, who just received a master’s degree, appears to be a thinking man’s chief with traditional ideas to tone down the military-style police work born out of the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks. His vision of a police officer is more in line with the friendlier neighborhood cop you see in old movies, the one who walks a beat and is part of the fabric of a neighborhood, not an outsider who rolls in SWATed up when 9-1-1 is called. It’s a refreshing approach that could help raise the level of trust between residents weary of violent crime in their neighborhoods and the police.
To his Tuesday meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board, Chief Llanes wore not his department uniform, but a suit and tie, likely sending a message that will shape his tenure.
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His approach comes at a time when relations between law enforcement and some civilians are all but in tatters. He laid out not only a smart path to take, but also a necessary one. To any police chief, in any major city, helping restore the authority and humanity of our police officers is imperative. And, of course, it’s not a one-way street.
The department’s 1,100 officers will move away from patrolling the city from their cruisers toward pounding the pavement and being responsible for a smaller and specific geographic area. They’ll know the residents; the residents will know them.
“Let’s say an officer is assigned to patrol Northwest Seventh Avenue between 54th and 62nd streets. He can park his car on 60th Street and walk his beat,” Chief Llanes said. That officer will be accountable for his piece of the city.
The idea is to break the cycle of negativity in the dealings between police officers and members of African-American and low-income communities that often have justified reason to fear and distrust some officers.
An officer doesn’t only have to arrest you, he can help you change a tire, the chief said. “The number of positive contacts with officers needs to increase.” We couldn’t agree more.
The chief said the department will no longer saturate troubled neighborhoods, but instead focus on the known bad guys, an element the city shares with the county. He is out to create stronger relationships with other police departments, sharing information, putting ego and turf concerns aside and making the arrest and conviction of violent perps the focus. Other agencies should be equally receptive.
Chief Llanes also made it clear that members of the African-American community in crime-affected areas must also step up and help police fight crime. Distrust of officers is longstanding, but so is the perception that some who are terrorized by thugs also shut the door on police trying to make arrests. Chief Llanes said in his meet-and-greets with leaders he’s come away with a mutual sense that “We’re all in this together.”
The Cuba-born chief, who was raised in Little Havana and graduated from Miami High, said that though shootings are up and there were four shootings last Sunday morning, overall major crimes are down in Miami. Still, he says, the perception in the media is that crime is rampant. Keeping that perception realistic is his task. We wish the chief luck, knowing that being Miami’s top cop has never been an easy job.