River Cities

Retiring Miami Springs police chief Pete Baan reflects on career

END OF AN ERA: Miami Springs Police Chief Pete Baan is retiring at the end of November after 40 years with the department. Over the years he has seen the best and worst of Miami Springs, including tragedies and advancements in police procedures and equipment.
END OF AN ERA: Miami Springs Police Chief Pete Baan is retiring at the end of November after 40 years with the department. Over the years he has seen the best and worst of Miami Springs, including tragedies and advancements in police procedures and equipment.

Born in Mercy Hospital 60 years ago to parents who lived in Miami Springs, Police Chief Pete Baan has spent his entire life in the city. He has owned a home in the Springs for 38 years.

Starting as a police dispatcher, Baan has had only one full-time job in his lifetime: at the Miami Springs Police Department. He has served in every position except K-9 officer.

After dispatching for seven months beginning in March 1974, Baan went to the police academy and became a patrol officer where he served until 1977. He became an undercover narcotics officer for a year and then a general investigation detective until 1980. He was a patrol sergeant for four years and then a detective sergeant for four years.

Baan was promoted to lieutenant in 1996 and supervised the patrol unit until 2003 when he was assigned to detective lieutenant. He then became captain/assistant chief until becoming chief in 2008.

“I started here when I was 20 and I’ve been here a solid 40 years,” said Baan. “Of course, the police department has changed a lot over the years.”

Baan recalled when the department had only four patrol cars.

“We had to double up because we didn’t have enough cars,” he said. “When I got out of the academy, we had two motorcycles, then four motorcycles, then no motorcycles for a while.”

Although many residents claim to be shocked at today’s crimes, the rate is relatively low and not nearly as violent as in the past.

“I remember working on the prostitution problem, major cocaine deals with traffickers that lived in the Springs,” said Baan. “We had a lot more violence back then and more murders in the early ’80s. We had dead bodies dumped on the golf course and in canals. Crime was much more diversified.”

Back in the day, policing was more of a hands-on job by officers and civilians.

“You could count on at least one bar fight somewhere every Friday or Saturday night,” said Baan. “I’ve had bumps, bruises and black eyes. I’ve been beat up and lost a lot of bar fights because I was a scrawny, 145-pound cop. It was rocking and rolling around here and I was trying to stay alive. But no major injuries.”

Some of the most notable incidents for Baan are more on a sad or tragic note.

“In the early ’80s, two of our officers were arrested for holding up drug dealers in another part of the county,” said Baan. “That was a dark event. Another officer was shot in the head during a hostage situation in the ’70s. He survived but was handicapped for life. Of course, I recall the tragedy of Officer Charles Stafford being shot and killed. I was third on the scene behind Officer Donnie Pessolano and Jeff Clark. Watching a fellow officer bleed out was a traumatic incident in my life.”

Baan also recalled celebrities and notables who lived here, including Dolphins quarterback Don Strock, whose best friend Dan Marino was often seen in the city.

Baan recollected when Miami Springs was the airline employee center of the county. “About 75 percent of the families here worked for the airlines,” said Baan. “Pilots, flight attendants and mechanics lived here and upscale restaurants were flourishing at the Miami Springs Villas and Green Mansions. There also were a lot more nightclubs and bars.”

Baan recalled the camaraderie that was more prevalent years ago.

“All the guys were tight,” said Baan. “We used to have FOP parties and picnics and a softball team. That sizzled and stopped 10-15 years ago. About the time the city brought in an outside chief from a small department in rural Pennsylvania.”

As a prolific handyman, Baan has installed or repaired almost everything in the police department.

“Before we had an IT guy, Jim Borgmann, Bill Coule and I handled that,” said Baan. “When we first got computers, I ran all the network cables for the department and City Hall.”

Baan and his wife Susan have three children: Michael, 18, Christopher, 15, and Alyssa, 11. All were schooled in Miami Springs.

Baan said he has definite plans for his retirement. “I’m finished with police work,” he said. “I’m going to do a lot more of what I do now when I’m not working.”

Baan’s activities include flying (he’s a longtime licensed pilot and owns an airplane) hunting, fishing, traveling and spending more time with his wife and children.

“I have a lot of hobbies and I’m into mechanics and construction,” said Baan. “Also motorcycles and cars; I have a lot of things to keep myself busy.”

Baan refused to go into details of his disappointment with city management over the decision to bring in a chief from outside of the department.

“I made my recommendation to promote from within,” said Baan. “We have qualified personnel. (Baan recommended Captain Jon Kahn.) For whatever reason, they chose to go outside and I have not been part of the selection process at all.”

Always a class act, Baan instead chose to talk about his retirement future.

“My actual last day will be somewhere around the end of November. It has been a fun 40 years,” he said. “And I’m very much looking forward to the next days of my life.”

Within the next couple of weeks, Baan’s career will be celebrated by co-workers, close friends and relatives at a private, by-invitation-only party.

Senior administrative specialist Leah Cox Cates has been at a desk outside of Baan’s office door during his tenure as captain and chief. Cates has worked for Baan in some manner since she started in 1997.

“He always has the best interest of the community at heart, along with his officers,” said Cates. “He has a great heart and I’ll miss him.”

Captain Jon Kahn began his career with Miami Springs in 1978 and has worked with Baan ever since.

“I rode with him when I first started,” said Kahn. “It has been an outstanding experience working with Pete. He has taken care of me and the department and he has done the right thing the right way for the citizens and the city.”

A 35-year veteran, Lt. Randy Walker said, “He’s a great guy to work with and work for. He’s one of the good guys. He always has been.”

Lieutenant John Mulla has been with the department for almost 24 years and, of course, he has known Baan his entire career.

“He doesn’t lash out like a lot of administrators,” said Mulla. “He thinks about things and bounces them off others and always makes a good decision. I can’t remember a time when he made a decision I thought was rash, or I didn’t agree with him. He’s always been fair and honest and treated everyone like a human being. You can’t ask for a better supervisor or a better man.”