Miami Beach installs first Black police chief, Wayne Jones

Jones' installment comes after years of criticism of the police department in Miami Beach, formerly considered a "sundown" town Blacks should avoid after nightfall.

The first Black police chief in Miami Beach history is reporting for duty.

Wayne Jones, a 54-year-old Bahamian American, has ascended the department’s ranks over the past 27 years. On Thursday, he took the oath of office as chief in front of a packed audience at the city’s New World Center auditorium.

During the swearing-in ceremony, Jones said he’s “humbled to stand before you as the first Black police chief in one of America’s most iconic cities,” according to the Miami Herald.

Miami Beach Black police chief
Wayne Jones, 54, was sworn in as the first Black police chief in Miami Beach on Thursday before a packed audience. (Photo: Screenshot/ Miami)

Jones’ installment comes in the wake of years of scrutiny and criticism of the police department’s handling of Black citizens in a community where, per U.S. Census figures, just 4.7 percent of its residents identify as Black. 

According to NBC News, the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP demanded the firing of the Miami Beach police chief and city manager after “racist” footage of police contacts with Black people on spring break was made public in 2020.

In 2015, Miami Beach police officers reportedly sent hundreds of racist and pornographic emails, including ones against President Barack Obama, which may have compromised scores of criminal cases in which they were witnesses, CBS News reported. An internal inquiry revealed that two of the 16 officers were senior members of the Miami Beach Police Department and served as the primary organizers of the communications.

The Miami Herald reported that five Miami Beach police officers were arrested in 2021 for using excessive force on a Black man restrained in handcuffs and for assaulting the Black bystander videotaping the incident. 

The city also received flak for enacting an ordinance unfairly targeting Black tourists who recorded videos of police, which came as part of a slew of tough-on-crime initiatives following a disorderly spring break.

While outlining his goal for the agency, Jones said data indicates crime has decreased in the tourist hotspot over the past decade. However, he said some Miami Beach residents continue to feel less safe, and it’s his responsibility to provide a sense of security.

He and other city officials noted the significance of his hiring, given Miami Beach’s history of racism, which included its designation as a “sundown” town Black people should avoid after nightfall.

Departing Chief Richard Clements worked his final day on Thursday after 33 years with the police. A city official stated that Clements made roughly $259,000 annually, while Jones will receive about $262,000.

After Clements announced his retirement in May, Philip Levine, a former two-term mayor of Miami Beach and previous Democratic candidate for governor of Florida, penned an opinion piece advocating for a Black successor.

“If Miami Beach found an African American chief who was the right fit for our police department, it would be a historic and positive moment,” Levine wrote. “It would give a voice to historically marginalized residents and visitors and help move us forward toward a day when the scales of justice are finally fully balanced.”

Jones spoke on the city’s high-profile effort in recent years to control spring break in its popular South Beach neighborhood, announcing he will soon start formalizing an action plan to “curb criminal behavior from a very small number of people.” 

The new chief also covered Miami Beach’s desire to “end open-air drug dealing.” He discussed how he views homelessness, a controversial subject as city leaders contemplate stricter rules prohibiting sleeping in public places. The number of unsheltered homeless people in Miami Beach has decreased from 235 in January to 152, as determined by an overnight census last week.

Although Jones promised to “make every effort” to provide resources to homeless residents, he also declared, “We will not allow a criminal element to take advantage of our collective empathy,” the Miami Herald reported.

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