The McDuffie riots in May 1980 led young Gregory Truitt into law enforcement. The future police commander was a rookie corrections officer who had just left working nights at his local gas station.
“Driving into work on [State Road] 836 and seeing the smoke and the county burning, well, that’s quite an impression on a 20-year-old,” Truitt, 56, told the Miami Herald of the historic race riots that claimed 18 lives and destroyed $100 million in property. Sparked by the acquittal of police officers in the severe beating of Arthur McDuffie, who died within days, people so enraged by the verdict lit their own Miami neighborhoods on fire. “It was an eye-opener.”
Now, after nearly a four-decade career, Truitt, a Miami-Dade police commander who oversaw the Palmetto Bay station, has retired. The village contracts with Miami-Dade County for police services.
“I’m out,” Truitt said. “It’s been a great career.”
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Truitt was born and raised in Coral Gables, where he graduated from Coral Gables Senior High. He received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Florida International University and a master’s degree in management from St. Thomas University.
After a few years in corrections, he became a Gables patrol officer, a job he held four years. He later joined the county’s police department in 1984. He worked in several areas, including as a sergeant in the Cutler Ridge district. He was there 23 years.
During his tenure, he worked on crime prevention and was assigned to Palmetto Bay before the village incorporated in 2002. He was named commander in 2008.
As commander, Truitt’s main goals were to lower police response times and provide more crime statistics. He also committed to continue to reach out to homeowner associations and residents with crime prevention tips, something he says he achieved.
My No. 1 job here is making people feel safe, and I think I've accomplished it.
Miami-Dade police commander Gregory Truitt, who just retired from the Palmetto Bay station
“My No. 1 job here is making people feel safe, and I think I’ve accomplished it,” Truitt said.
Although Palmetto Bay is a typically quiet neighborhood with booming traffic, during his tenure, Truitt oversaw several high-profile cases.
In 2009, police charged a South Dade teen with killing and mutilating 19 cats in Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay. The state’s case fell apart after defense experts showed that the cats were killed by a dog or other animal. Prosecutors dropped the charges.
Last year, Jason Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison for the 2007 slaying of the one-time University of Miami and Washington Redskins player Sean Taylor. Mitchell had seen thousands of dollars in cash inside Sean Taylor’s home in Palmetto Bay, and ultimately masterminded the burglary that led to the NFL star’s fatal shooting.
Truitt said his first Friday of retirement was hardly serene.
“I got a subpoena regarding a criminal case where several burglary suspects were taken into custody in Palmetto Bay,” Truitt said. “I assisted on the surveillance. We closed a bunch of crimes this spring in several burglaries in Palmetto Bay and adjacent jurisdictions.”
The Palmetto Bay police unit is comprised of 40 sworn officers who patrol about 8,000 homes and 8½ square miles.
“It is like being a chief of a small town. The difference is that I have the full resources ... from Miami-Dade,” he said.
This year, Truitt says, burglaries were in the low 70s. “At one point they hit 175 a year,” he said. “I think we’re getting better.”
Succeeding Truitt will be Miami-Dade Lt. Gadyaces Serralta.
Although residential burglaries are common in the village, Truitt says Serralta’s biggest headache will be traffic.
“Ninety-nine percent of the emails I got were about traffic,” he said, adding that his successor “is going to have to face challenges by the public to do something about the ugly traffic congestion.”
Truitt says he’ll remain a reserve officer at the county in Matheson Hammock Park.
“I will stay active in law enforcement,” he said. “I think I can do some good somewhere, either on a voluntary basis or on a paid status.”
In the meantime, Truitt will have a lot more time on his hands.
“I’m going to hang out and just do stuff,” said Truitt, who is married and has one child in college, another in high school. “I have a 1956 Chevy truck restoration project I’ve been meaning to get to. Stuff around the house. My family. I’m also still one of the few people on my block that cuts his own lawn.”