MIAMI GARDENS (CBSMiami) — This month marks one year since Delma Noel-Pratt took over as the Chief of the Miami Gardens police Department.
She made history as the first black woman to hold the job, and now, community members say she is making an impact with how she executes it.
CBS4 anchor Lauren Pastrana sat down with the Chief for an exclusive interview and tagged along as she showed her community-policing plan in action.
“I’m not the type of person that likes to sit behind the desk for 12, 13 hours. I have to get outside and see what’s going on,” the Chief said while driving through the city recently.
Noel-Pratt definitely practices what she preaches.
“I don’t ask them to do things I can’t do myself,” she explained of her leadership style.
So when she implemented a “park, walk and talk” strategy to get her officers out in the community, she followed her own order.
Chief Noel-Pratt believes face-to-face connection with the public is key.
“That’s what they deserve. They deserve to see my face. I may not be able to be there every day, but they need to know who their chief is. Who their command staff members are. Who their officers are,” she told Lauren Pastrana. “I think it’s very important to let them know this is their police department. We work for them.”
Chief Noel-Pratt has been working for the people of Miami Gardens for a year now, officially sworn in on May 1, 2017.
“A lot of good things come in small packages,” she said that day, as she stood on a box to greet her new community, which wasn’t really that new to her at all.
“It’s like coming home,” she remembered. “When I first started my career 25+ years ago, it was right here in what used to be called Carol City. So I have a true love for this community, a true love for you all. I’m pleased to be here, and I look forward to being here for many years to come.”
At a recent gathering at the police department, civic-minded residents commended the chief on a successful first year.
“It’s not the police against the community or vice versa, we are one and you have brought that to us,” Linda Hodges Holloway said. “As a woman, I’m inspired and so many other woman are inspired by your leadership, your stature, your integrity and more importantly your love.”
Another woman had tears in her eyes as she described the positive impact the Chief has had in the community and thanked her for being open to meeting with residents.
“They couldn’t have made a better decision for someone that not only brings the community together but think of ways to create more internal harmony as it relates to the police department,” said Lonnie Lawrence.
Founded in 2007, the Miami Gardens Police Department has seen its share of controversy and a string of leaders, some lasting barely a year at the helm.
But Chief Noel-Pratt says she is not worried about the past.
“I just do what I know what to do,” she said. “I just show the community and the men and women of this department what I’m made of. I can’t speak on what’s happened in the past. That has nothing to do with me.”
From a racial profiling scandal, to a now-former chief caught soliciting a prostitute, the MGPD was in need of an image overhaul and some positive PR.
So Chief Noel-Pratt brought in a new command staff, which includes the once-retired, former Director the Miami-Dade Police Department JD Patterson as her assistant chief, added some public information officers to spread some good news, and boosted the department’s social media presence by using hashtag “One Vision, One Mindset”.
“Everybody has to be on the same mindset,” she said. “That’s what’s going to make us work. I let me officers know, ‘If you’re going to do this, I can do it alongside you.’ There are times I pull over cars on traffic stops or I back my officers up because I don’t forget where I’ve come from.”
Born in London and raised in Michigan, Noel-Pratt moved to South Florida after high school.
Together with her husband, a crime scene investigator for the city of Miami, they lead a life of service.
She says her greatest duty is to their three daughters.
“I know they’re looking and seeing what I do, along with little girls out there, so it’s very important I do the right thing,” she said. “I’ve always had that competition if you will. This is a man’s world; however, I’m very educated. I’m very developed as far as training. I can do this job just as well as any man can do the job.”
She may be the first black female chief of the roughly 190-member department, but law enforcement is still a male-dominated field.
Only about 13% of officers across the country are women, and Noel-Pratt has some advice for those looking to rise through the ranks.
“There’s a lot of folks that may say you can’t go to the academy because you’re a mother. You can’t do this job because you’re a mother. But that’s even more of a reason to do it, to show the world you can be anything you want to be,” the Chief explained. “So, I say to all the women out there, just stay focused. Don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t do it.”
She prides herself on her compassion, integrity and transparency.
Chief Noel-Pratt says her focus is on training and expanding the police force.
She has already hired about 20 new employees, and hopes to add more soon.
While it is crime that makes headlines here, Chief Noel-Pratt says it is the stories you don’t read about that make Miami Gardens so special to her.
“It’s a beautiful place. There’s a lot of professionals that live here. There’s a lot of professionals that work in this police department. We are your neighbors. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but don’t listen to all the hype in the media. Come speak to me. I’ll be glad to tell you what it’s like living here and working in the city of Miami Gardens. Because this is a very special place.”