North Miami Police Chief Marc Elias traveled to Haiti seven times since April 2012 for purposes including a swearing-in ceremony, an 18th anniversary celebration for Haiti’s police force, and to provide security for a vacationing North Miami Mayor Lucie Tondreau.
The city-funded visits earned Marc Elias “a usual room” at La Villa Creole, his hotel of choice nestled in the hills of Petionville.
In all, the city shelled out $14,000 for the trips. Records obtained by the Miami Herald show that the money came from the city’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund, money seized from criminals.
Police agencies typically uses these types of funds for public education, training, equipment or crime prevention.
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Elias notes on city travel documents that while abroad, he is engaged in teaching Haitian police officers or sharing law enforcement information with top Haitian brass.
During his recent August stay in Haiti, Elias told his boss he was there to provide security for Tondreau, who was on a private vacation, and to teach Haitian police about community policing over a two week period.
But Haitian police officials and the U.S. government, which is leading efforts to strengthen the Haiti National Police, said North Miami is not among the law enforcement agencies involved in the effort.
Haitian National Police created the community policing unit earlier this year in partnership with the U.S. Department of State. This week, a group of officers on bicycles were wheeled out in Cité Soleil, a volatile slum in Port-au-Prince.
“Only the New York City Police Department has partnered with the Department of State to train with the Haitian National Police on community policing,” wrote Christian Cali, public diplomacy officer at the department, in an email.
North Miami City Manager Stephen Johnson, Elias’ boss, had few details on the August trip. Johnson said he does not know exactly who the chief met with in Haiti nor in what cities the chief was scheduled to teach community policing.
But Johnson said he believes the classes led by Elias were more “localized” and not part of the larger initiative run by the United States.
“I have not asked for any backup information from his trips. I will inquire, but I don’t know specifically the details,” Johnson said.
Elias declined an interview with a Miami Herald reporter.
In response to a list of emailed questions about the Haiti trip, city spokeswoman Pam Solomon provided this statement:
“As you know, North Miami has a large Haitian population. Chief Elias has determined that it is important to have ongoing discourse and information sharing with law enforcement agencies in Haiti, including the most recent visit with … the Haitian chief of police and members of his staff.”
Johnson, said fostering relationships between North Miami and Haiti is important for the city’s law-enforcement efforts stateside. For instance, he said, if a suspect in a North Miami crime flees to Haiti, the city would already have a working relationship with investigators and high ranking officials in Haiti to expedite the investigation.
When Haiti president Michel Martelly jetted to Miami last year for a friend’s party, he couldn’t get Secret Service security detail because he didn’t give enough notice. North Miami police provided the last-minute detail and taxpayers footed the $8,800 bill.
Elias’ trips, Johnson said, are for networking and educating Haitian police about various law-enforcement tactics.
“I know as a Haitian American chief, Chief Elias is sort of iconic,” Johnson added. “He speaks Creole, French, Spanish and English and he is very popular in that regard as a speaker.”
In November 2012, Elias wrote he would be in Haiti for an 11-day “joint investigation in child exploitation.”
It turns out, there was no child exploitation investigation.
“It’s more like sharing information on crime trends,” wrote Solomon, the city’s spokeswoman in an email.
Solomon said she was not aware of any child exploitation incidents in North Miami.
In December 2012, Elias returned to Haiti for the swearing in of Godson Orelus, Haitian national police chief. While there, Elias was scheduled to conduct a two-day workshop.
After securing an economy class seat for that trip, Elias later upgraded to business class. He was reimbursed with LETF funds.
In an email securing a room at La Villa Creole, where the chief typically lodges, a staff member wrote, “We are pleased to reserve the usual room for Chief Marc Elias. … Looking forward to welcoming him soon again.”
When the Haitian National Police celebrated its 18th anniversary in June, Elias was on hand to partake in the week-long festivities which included a basketball tournament and motorcycle show. Elias wrote he would also participate in seminars regarding crime and child exploitation.
As city manager, Johnson said he is always reviewing the benefits of traveling and other nonessential expenses to make sure they’re in the best interest of North Miami’s taxpayers.
“If it’s not beneficial and we’re not getting something out it, then we change,” he said.
In the case of Elias’ jaunts to Haiti, Johnson said North Miami’s return is goodwill.
“As far was what does North Miami receive from that, we’re educating in a country that’s less fortunate.” he said, “What do we get? Sometimes it’s the feeling you get of just helping a department that is less fortunate.”
Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report from Haiti.