MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) — The Miami Beach Police Department has honored its first African American officer by renaming the community room at police headquarters in Washington Avenue.
James W. Smith died January 31, 2017. He was 87.
Known as “Smitty,” he became the first black officer for the Miami Beach Police Dept. when he joined in 1964. In a time when blacks and whites still drank from different water fountains, Smith rose through the ranks and was promoted to Major by the time he retired in 1990.
Kenneth Glassman was the head of the force at the time.
“Our Smitty broke the color line,” the former police chief recalled. “It wasn’t easy.”
Glassman, along with dozens of current and past officers and family and friends, celebrated Smith’s legacy Wednesday at the dedication of the Major James W. Smith Community Room at Miami Beach Police headquarters.
“The message we’re sending is that this is a diverse community that embraces its diversity,” said current Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates.
Friends of all races shared stories of Maj. Smith, remembered as a man of integrity and strength. To his family, Smith was a father and role model they say the community can learn from.
“He treated everybody the way he wanted to be treated,” said his son, Rodney Smith. “There was no background, no ethnicity, he just treated people they way he wanted people to treat his children and his family.”
Chief Dan Oates said the dedicated room isn’t just for police business. In the spirit of James Smith, he says it’s open to, and should be used by, everyone in the community.