Broward County

First African-American woman promoted to sergeant in Hialeah police department

Hialeah police officer Karen Smith-Bonilla made history on last month when she became the first African-American woman in the department’s 89-year history to be promoted to sergeant.

“This is not only for myself but for my coworkers,” said Smith-Bonilla. “I want them to know that all things are possible.”

Hialeah is the sixth-largest city in Florida and its police department, headed by Chief Sergio Velazquez, has 329 sworn officers. About 89 percent of these officers are men.

“We have 22 African-American officers that comprise about 6.7 percent of the department,” said Hialeah Police Lt. Carl Zogby.

Since she arrived from Kingston, Jamaica, at age 6, Smith-Bonilla’s roadmap for success has included plenty of hard work and setting serious educational goals.

“I earned an A.S. in Criminal Justice at Miami Dade College,” said Smith-Bonilla, who attended local schools including Comstock Elementary in Allapattah and Dr. Charles R. Drew Middle and Northwestern Senior High in Liberty City.

Smith-Bonilla 40, went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Florida International University with a minor in public administration. Then she re-enrolled at FIU and earned a master’s degree in public administration with a minor in human resources management.

Along the way, Smith-Bonilla found time to give back to the community by mentoring female teens through the Assembly of God “Missionettes Girls Ministries.”

“We live in the real world,” said Smith-Bonilla. “We show girls how to deal with real-life scenarios based on Biblical teachings.”

Since 1999, when she joined the Hialeah police, Smith-Bonilla has also racked up plenty of experience dealing with “real world” issues on the streets. She worked her way up starting as an intern, then hit the road as a patrol officer and ended up solving complex financial crimes in the detective bureau.

“My passion is economic crimes,” said Smith-Bonilla, who has plenty of experience investigating sophisticated mortgage-fraud, money-laundering and extortion cases.

Smith-Bonilla aspires to one day supervise the economic crimes unit.

“Hialeah is proud and lucky to have such a powerful female African-American role model,” said Hialeah Police Maj. Raleigh Flowers Jr. “We know her fine example of achievement will inspire other minority women to advance and succeed as law enforcement professionals”.

Years from now, Smith-Bonilla said, she would like to leave an additional legacy by working as an adjunct professor teaching criminal justice courses. She already is a certified teacher with the Miami-Dade Public School System.

“Never say you can’t do something. Then go get it,” said Smith-Bonilla. “I hope that I have paved a new path for people who have not even been hired yet.”