MIAMI (CBSMiami) – There’s a new top cop in Opa-locka.
Wednesday morning City Manager Kelvin Baker announced that former North Miami Police Commander Jeffrey Key will replace current Chief Cheryl Cason who is retiring.
Key, who began his police career in Opa-locka, is the son-in-law of the late Robert Ingram, Opa-locka’s former mayor, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald. He is a 28-year-veteran with North Miami.
According to the Miami Herald the outgoing chief, a 30 year veteran of the force, has had a stormy relationship with the police department. In her career she’s had nearly two dozen disciplinary actions and was actually fired once when she tested positive for cocaine use.
Cason claimed the test results were tainted and in 1999 she reached a settlement with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that allowed her to keep her police certification.
In 2008 she was named police chief, but it wasn’t smooth sailing from there. In 2011 she was suspended for failing to report an accident involving her city vehicle.
The announcement that Keys would be in charge of the department is not a big surprise to some. Earlier this month North Miami’s Mayor Andre Pierre said as much in a newsletter emailed to about 100 constituents. At the time, Baker and Mayor Myra Taylor denied anyone had been hired to replace Cason or deputy chief Antonio Sanchez. When word leaked about the closed door hirings, some Opa-Locka residents vented their frustrations during a public meeting.
“It’s getting to be tiring, the citizens don’t have no say so. Do a national search for a police chief, the last time we just brought somebody in was disastrous,” said one concerned resident at the podium.
Today Baker admitted to CBS4′s Natalia Zea that he hired for the position behind closed doors and never advertised or conducted any type of search.
“That was an executive decision, that I made. After much consideration based on some of the challenges before us right now, based on the need to have leadership in place effective immediately,” said Baker. He would not elaborate further.
Chief Key said the city of North Miami jumped the gun in its newsletter and that he had not officially been given the position.
He says he will do an initial assessment of the department and “rewire” the department how he feels necessary.
The Herald reports that in the last 20 years Opa-locka, a city plagued by poverty and crime, has had 12 different police chiefs. In the last year, there have been several state probes into allegations involving corruption on the police force.
Hired in 2012, Sanchez has reportedly been going through police files to weed out bad cops.
When he was brought on board, there were more than 40 internal affairs investigations open on the department’s 58 officers. Ten officers were fired or forced to retire. Several appealed, however, and got their jobs back.
Sanchez’s critics, including John Rivera, head of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, said that Sanchez has been too heavy handed.
Chief Key confirmed he is considering North Miami police officer Peter Cruz to replace Sanchez.
Cruz has had a number of internal affairs complaints against him since he joined the force in 1985, according to the Miami Herald. Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show two complaints: one for perjury and another for providing false statements. Both were dismissed.
Chief Key wouldn’t say whether cracking down on corruption within his own department would be a priority, but he says he will require a few basic things of his officers.
“I demand three things. Come to work. Stay out of trouble. And do your job.”
And the new chief has his work cut out for him to crack down on Opa-Locka’s flagrant crimes. During the new chief’s outdoor press conference, about 200 feet from where the chief was outlining his hopes to crack down on crime, in front of Opa-Locka City Hall, burglars smashed in the car windows of two reporters covering the conference and took off with their purses.