May 10, 2021
Surprise pick: Houston Chief Art Acevedo, a national figure, will lead Miami Police
 
 
 
 
 
By Joey Flechas & Charles Rabin
 

Miami’s next police chief is a surprise pick that few, if any, saw coming — Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, leader of the fourth largest police department in the country and a man who forged a national profile the past year marching with police reform protesters after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

Acevedo is expected to be introduced during a City Hall news conference later Monday morning and take the department’s reins in about six weeks. He would be Miami’s fifth chief the past decade, an unusual high turnover for a large department of about 1,400 officers. He leaves Houston, a 5,400-person force with a more than $1 billion yearly budget, after a five-year stint.

Over the past year Acevedo, 56, has become a CNN staple and one of the most recognizable police chiefs in the country. It’s a profile that Miami Mayor Francis Suarez seems to like.

“I think this is like getting the Tom Brady or the Michael Jordan of police chiefs,” Suarez said. 

Acevedo cuts a colorful and controversial figure. He’s a Republican who nonetheless spoke by video on the opening night of the last year’s Democratic convention. The convention appearance came two months after Acevedo responded sharply to a demand by President Donald Trump that governors had to start dominating protesters or he’d send in the military. Acevedo told the president to keep his “mouth shut” if he didn’t have anything constructive to say.

Other than just a few people at City Hall, Acevedo as Miami’s next chief wasn’t on anyone’s radar. He didn’t participate in the months-long interview process by City Manager Art Noriega, who has sole responsibility for the hiring of the city’s police chief. Noriega confirmed Acevedo’s hiring Sunday night.

The announcement ends a lengthy search for a successor to Chief Jorge Colina, who retired in February after leading the department for three years. Miami was expected to name a new chief more than six weeks ago. As the delay dragged on, speculation in the public and from insiders was running rampant of a tug-of-war between city leaders over veteran Miami police senior staffers. 

In the end, that didn’t turn out to be the case. Though Acevedo never formally applied for the post, he connected with Suarez through the mayor’s membership in the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Noriega, who met with Acevedo over the past month, began to recruit him. 

“It helps to have a mayor that has the profile that he does,” Noriega said. “We just landed a change agent for the city in terms of just policing and law enforcement.” 

Noriega, who met quietly with Acevedo on two occasions two weeks ago, said the deal was finalized in recent days. Late Sunday, Acevedo emailed his officers to inform them of his departure, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“We have been through so much as an extended family,” wrote Acevedo. “Hurricane Harvey, two World Series, a Super Bowl, Irma, the summer of protest, and most recently, an ice storm of epic proportion. On top of all this, we have sadly buried six of our fallen heroes.”

HIS BACKGROUND: CUBAN-BORN

Acevedo was born in Havana and is the son of a Cuban police officer. The Acevedo family emigrated to the U.S. in 1968, settling in California. He received a bachelor of science degree from the University of La Verne.

Acevedo served in East Los Angeles for the California Highway Patrol, eventually working his way to chief in 2005. By 2007, he became police chief in Austin, Texas. In 2016, he became the first Hispanic to run Houston’s police department, a massive agency that oversees corrections and has a budget equal to Miami’s entire municipal budget. Acevedo currently serves as president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a professional organization of police executives.

A regular Twitter user with a large following, Acevedo is known as an outspoken anti-gun violence crusader who became a fixture on CNN, mostly for his political views the past year during the social justice and police reform uprisings. A Republican, Acevedo appeared on a video on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention.

In 2016, when he was chief in Austin, he made national headlines for criticizing his own leadership team after one of his officers killed a naked, unarmed teenager. A leaked recording of Acevedo addressing his staff captured the chief’s frustration.

“If you can’t handle a kid in broad daylight, naked, and your first instinct is to come out with your gun, and your next instinct is to shoot the kid dead, you don’t need to be a cop,” he vented. “I don’t give a s--- how nice you are.”

Despite the accolades and his progressive bent, Texas Monthly Magazine — a respected left-leaning publication — wrote a critical portrayal of Acevedo last June, saying critics accused him of “grandstanding” and “self-promotion.”

The article pointed out that though Acevedo is a proponent of doing away with cash bail for suspects, changed his Twitter profile to highlight George Floyd and wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for police accountability, it didn’t quite jibe with what was going on in Houston. 

Last year during the COVID-19 outbreak, he refused to waive cash bail for many of the 8,000 inmates in Houston jails. Eventually more than 1,000 inmates and employees became infected with the potentially fatal virus.

The magazine also noted that though Acevedo condemned Floyd’s killing, his officers had shot and killed six men in the six prior weeks, five of them people of color. And, the magazine said, Acevedo refused to release any videos related to those shootings.

NEW FACE IN MIAMI

The hire bucks a trend of elevating senior leadership to the top job in Miami’s force.

The two leading candidates were believed to be Asst. Chief Manuel "Manny" Morales, a 26-year veteran who has spent the past 11 years as a member of the department’s executive command team and who currently oversees field operations, and Maj. Francisco “Frank” Fernandez, a 29-year veteran and major who now commands the Central Patrol District, which runs from downtown to Wynwood and out to Allapattah.

The city announced in September that Colina, who led the department through federal oversight after a series of police shootings, the pandemic and last summer’s protests, was planning to retire at the end of January. A gaggle of applicants have interviewed since then, including senior staffer and Assistant Chief of Police Cherise Gause and several officers from other cities around the country.

But by mid-February, sources said the field had narrowed to Morales, Fernandez and possibly Gause, a 25-year veteran who is in charge of administrative functions, which includes technology support, property and evidence and training. She’s a strong advocate for community policing who has overseen criminal investigations and commanded a district.

Noriega said the internal candidates were strong and that he would understand criticism if he’d hired an outsider with the same level of experience. But the manager said he believes Acevedo’s background will complement Miami’s command staff.

“He kind of considers himself a chief-maker. From a command staff standpoint, they should all react incredibly positively to the idea that we’re bringing in somebody who can take them to the next level,” Noriega said. “It’s not slight on them. There were some good internal candidates. But with his background and his skill set, it really is a no-brainer and they should be able to understand that.”