The village of Biscayne Park has named its new police chief, Cornelius “Rusty” McKenna, a veteran with more than 37 years in law enforcement from Suffolk County, New York.
A career in law enforcement for McKenna, 57, seemed inevitable. His grandfathers, uncles and cousins served the New York City Police Department since 1926. So when he was sworn in as a deputy sheriff at the age of 18, it seemed only natural.
“I grew up in a valley, and there wasn’t very good television reception. But, I remember watching Adam-12 and saying ‘wow.’ It was something I wanted to do,” McKenna said.
He began his career with the Suffolk County Police Department in January 1981, serving in numerous positions including commanding officer of the First Precinct. He was promoted to inspector in 2009, and when he retired McKenna was the executive officer to the Chief of Support Services. However, after a year he realized that retirement didn’t work for him.
“It’s one of those things that look real good on paper, but for me it was a mistake,” McKenna said. “I promised my wife I’d give it a try for a year but I’m just too young to be retired.”
He and wife, Dona, moved to Naples in October 2013. After joining a boating club, taking pictures of dolphins and learning the names of many different birds, McKenna was ready to return to law enforcement but not for an agency the size of Suffolk County, which has 2,700 officers in a suburban area east of New York City.
Biscayne Park has 11 officers.
“When you’ve worked as long as I had for an agency that big, where they need you to work is where you work. I never got to see anyone from the community anymore. I had worked myself away from the very thing I wanted,” McKenna said.
He was one of 27 applicants who applied for the position left vacant after former chief Ray Atesiano resigned in April. Village Manager Heidi Shafran hired McKenna, She was assisted by a review committee that included Interim Police Chief Duncan Foster, Miami Shores Police Chief Kevin Lystad, Bay Harbor Islands Town Manager Ronald Wasson, North Miami Beach Director of Human Resources Rose Amberson, and Charles Ross, chairman of Citizens Crime Watch for the village.
“The combination of his experience and his approachable personality is a good fit for our residents and police force. McKenna expressed enthusiasm and a clear understanding of the position throughout the selection process. I look forward to Chief McKenna joining our leadership team and elevating the village of Biscayne Park Police Department to the next level,” Shafran said.
Mayor David Coviello supported Shafran’s choice saying he was “extremely pleased with the manager’s selection of Rusty McKenna to lead the village’s police department. Rusty not only brings decades of experience in law enforcement, but has very targeted leadership experience that made him so appealing for the position. Aside from the wealth of experience and strong leadership skills that he brings to the village, I particularly liked his calm demeanor.”
His demeanor and his desire to work for a smaller agency and reconnect with a community are what drew McKenna to the village, he said.
“Biscayne Park is a small-town-America kind of community, and the residents are very engaged. I want that to continue but I also really want them to believe that we are here to serve them. They are never a bother to us. If something doesn’t look right, call us. I want to continue making this the most wonderful place it can possibly be.”
McKenna earned a bachelor of arts, summa cum laude, in criminal justice from Long Island University in 2013, and graduated from the FBI National Academy in 2004. Additionally, he was awarded 12 commendations.
His first day with the village will be June 30 and he will be sworn in at 6:15 p.m., July 1, at the Ed Burke Recreation Center, 11400 NE Ninth Court.