Police band brings music to communities
Up on stage, eight musicians take their places amid wires, amps, drums. They check the mics. Give their song list a final look.
The gig is about to begin.
So, there they stand, eight musicians poised to perform before a crowd eager to see what’s next. The band members stand straight in their blue uniforms, proudly displaying their badges.
Ladies and gentlemen, the police. The real police.
This is no ordinary band, although InBlue Police Band’s music hits the mainstream: rock, country, Latin. These musicians are all South Florida cops — and they consider their performances part of their mission.
“This is community policing at its best,” said a band coordinator, Miami Maj. Esther Farmer, as she bobbed her head to the beat at a recent mid-day performance. “It humanizes police work — bridging the gap between law enforcement and the community.”
At the same time, there’s nothing amateur about their musicianship. They rock.
“I love you, too!” frontman Luis Pla shouts to the adoring audience.
Pla is an 18-year veteran of the Miami Police Department. He served in the Army for 25 years.
“Playing music is very therapeutic,” said Pla, who is a training officer, after playing a show at the Sandra Delucca Developmental Center, a training center in Miami for adults with disabilities. “It’s a way we can give back.”
On stage, members of the InBlue Police Band — made up of law enforcement officers from Miami-Dade jurisdictions including Miami, Coral Gables, Miami Beach and Doral — performs at community events and for for various organizations on request.
The members say at a time when the relationship between communities and law enforcement officers is strained, playing music can be healing.
At the center for adults with disabilities, the second the band began Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba everyone was on their feet. The chairs and tables were pushed out of the way — and the dance party was on.
“It was electric,” said Pla, who plays the guitar and sings.
Chris Gay, a center participant, swayed to the beat watching his friends spin around the makeshift dance floor. His favorite performer is Daddy Yankee, but he gave a nod of approval to the police band.
Gay broke a sweat as he moved his feet and swung his arms as Pla sang Para bailar la bamba.
“I like music and dance,” he said.
And that is one of the reasons 22-year Miami police veteran Lt. Francisco Fernandez, who has been playing drums most his life, came up with the idea of a police band about 20 years ago.
He knew there were police choirs and classical music groups. He also knew of police officers who formed a band after hours and gigged around town, but he wanted a band that gave back to the community. He said he felt law enforcement “could do more as a profession to reach the citizens in a different way.”
“I always thought there was something missing,” he said, adding that people don’t always see that there are real people, with real emotions behind the uniform. “Music is a universal language.”
But tough work schedules, lack of interest from musicians and just plain life got in the way.
This is community policing at its best.
Miami Maj. Esther Farmer
Fernandez, who has been playing the drums since he was 7, started piecing together a band. The current band members, most of whom have a military background, have been together for about two years.
The members include: Pla, who plays guitar and sings; Fernandez, who plays the drums, directs the band and sings; Miami police officer Amado Ventura, who plays the bass guitar; Doral police officer Orlando Saavedra, who plays the congas and sings; Miami Beach police officer Christina O’Neal, who plays the saxophone; Miami police academy graduate Jason Whiting, who plays lead guitar, Coral Gables Sgt. Tomas Salcedo and Miami-Dade police officer Luis Rivera.
“We can put our jobs a way for a little and just relax and have fun,” she said.
O’Neal, who played in Northwestern Senior High’s marching band, always loved music. She was thrilled when she got a call that the band needed a horn player.
“It’s awesome that all of the agencies come together as one unit,” said O’Neal, who has been on the Miami Beach police force for nearly three years.
Practices and gigs — none of which are paid — are all done off-duty. The band members also pay for their own equipment. Recently they got approval from all for the agencies to be able to wear their uniforms while they play — so that the people know who they are.
Fernandez said picking songs is a tedious process. They avoid music with questionable themes and naughty words.
And since the members only practice once a week for about four hours, learning a song can take about a month. So far, the group’s repertoire runs about 30 songs — country, rock, jazz, Spanish music — including Treasure by Bruno Mars, Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan and Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks.
Nadia Arguellas-Goiwechea, the Sandra Delucca Developmental Center’s program coordinator, said when she was first approached about the band she thought they’d sing a couple of songs and that would be it.
She had no idea what she’d see was a professional-sounding band in full-concert mode.
“They are amazing,” Arguellas-Goiwechea said.
While Fernandez said the perception of law enforcement won’t change overnight, members are hoping that the band sends a clear message.
“Some people see us as their enemy,” he said. “We are trying to make us more approachable as a profession. There are no dreams of stardom. ... We are a team of police officers trying to humanize the uniform.”