MIAMI — The hiring of Art Acevedo as Miami’s police chief seemed like an ideal match. Chief Acevedo, fresh off a high-profile stint in Houston, brought stature and swagger to a city infatuated with both. And as a Cuban immigrant maintaining law and order in the country’s largest concentration of Cuban Americans, his arrival had an air of celebratory inevitability.
That was six months ago. Now Chief Acevedo is at the center of an archetypal Miami political drama, replete with references to Cuban Communism and corruption, that has roiled City Hall and threatened his job.
Even before he moved to Miami, Chief Acevedo was something of a celebrity police chief, known as an outspoken critic of former President Donald J. Trump — despite being a Republican himself — and as a prominent proponent of police reform, especially toward communities of color and immigrants.
But the Miami imbroglio is not over policy. It is a clash of personalities between an ambitious new outsider and powerful city commissioners miffed over both Chief Acevedo’s surprise appointment and his tendency to say exactly what he thinks.
wrote in an eight-page letter on Friday in which he denounced how commissioners tried to influence an internal affairs investigation and then retaliated by defunding top positions in the Police Department’s budget. “If I or M.P.D. give in to the improper actions described herein,” he added, “as a Cuban immigrant, I and my family might as well have remained in Communist Cuba, because Miami and M.P.D. would be no better than the repressive regime and the police state we left behind.”
ended five years of oversight of the Police Department, which began after an investigation into the police killings of seven Black men.
Chief Acevedo was supposed to bring that era to a conclusion by enacting reforms and promoting an equitable, merit-based chain of command in the police force.
But he wasted no time in generating controversy of his own. He terminated two high-ranking officers and demoted the department’s second-highest-ranking female Black officer. He said his own department — rather than the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — should investigate police shootings. And he angered the police union by telling a local radio station that officers should get vaccinated against the coronavirus or risk losing their jobs.
Last week, a majority of members polled by the Fraternal Order of Police said that they had no confidence in the chief and that he should be fired or forced to resign.
Meantime, Chief Acevedo was making new enemies outside the Police Department as well.
At a demonstration in support of freedom activists in Cuba outside Miami’s iconic Versailles restaurant, the chief was caught posing for a photo with a prominent member of the Proud Boys. (He did not know who it was, the chief said.) Someone that day also recorded him swearing at a man who asked why he hung out with Marxists and Communists and supported the Black Lives Matter movement.
What especially incensed commissioners, in addition to the housecleaning at Police Headquarters, was when Chief Acevedo told a group of officers this summer that the department was run by a “Cuban mafia.” The chief later apologized, saying he intended it as a joke and had not realized that Fidel Castro had used the same phrase to refer to Cuban exiles in Miami who opposed his Communist regime.
The commissioners’ meeting to confront the chief on Monday quickly devolved into Miami-style political theatrics.