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Once hailed as 'the best police chief in America,' Art Acevedo is suspended in Miami

Miami's new Police Chief Art Acevedo speaks to the media during his introduction at City Hall on March 15, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Acevedo left his job as police chief in Houston, Texas to take over Miami's police department.
Joe Raedle
Getty Images
Miami's new Police Chief Art Acevedo speaks to the media during his introduction at City Hall on March 15, 2021, in Miami. Acevedo left his job as police chief in Houston to take over Miami's police department.

Updated October 12, 2021 at 3:48 PM ET

MIAMI — The city of Miami has suspended and intends to fire its police chief, Art Acevedo.

Miami's city manager Art Noriega sent Acevedo a memo Monday listing the reasons for his termination. Noriega said the police chief failed to follow department protocols, he had lost the confidence of his officers and had made improper comments that damaged community relations.

Acevedo came to Miami after gaining a national profile in Texas as a police chief in Houston and Austin. At a news conference announcing his hire in April, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez called him "the best chief in America."

On Tuesday, Suarez was more subdued, calling his suspension "the beginning of the end of an unfortunate episode." Suarez defended the hire, saying Acevedo had "the qualifications and experience to be an effective chief of police." But Suarez said it had become clear that the police chief's personality and leadership style didn't work in Miami. Suarez said, "The status quo where a top city administrator is in a war with the city's elected leadership is simply untenable and unsustainable."

After taking the job, Acevedo quickly made some controversial moves. He fired two high-ranking officers and demoted others. He also started getting into conflicts with members of Miami's city commission. The growing criticism of Acevedo came to a head last month when, at a morning police roll call meeting, he referred to the people running the department as "the Cuban Mafia."

Art Acevedo, Miami Police Chief, joins in a Gun Violence Peace March on June 16, 2021.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Getty Images
Art Acevedo, Miami Police Chief, joins in a Gun Violence Peace March on June 16, 2021.

Miami's city commission held two meetings grilling the city manager about the police chief's hiring. Three of the five members of the commission are Cuban-American and they made it clear they felt Acevedo's comments were aimed at them. Commission member Alex Diaz de la Portilla said, "He wants the press to believe that he is a great reformer that get rid of the Cuban Mafia, the bad guys. Because we're the corrupt ones, right?" Diaz de la Portilla said, "We're supposed to take the hit? I'm not going to allow that to happen."

Like the three city commissioners, Acevedo is also Cuban-American. He was born in Havana but grew up in Los Angeles. He apologized for his comments, saying he was unaware that that Fidel Castro had often referred to Miami's exile community as "the Cuban Mafia."

Acevedo further angered officials with an 8-page memo he sent to the city manager detailing a series of incidents that he said showed improper interference by city commissioners. He said he planned to ask the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an investigation.

In a statement announcing Acevedo's suspension, city manager Noriega said the chief's relationship with the police department had "deteriorated beyond repair" and that's it's time to find a new leader for the department. After learning of his suspension, Acevedo sent a memo to members of the police department saying he intended to keep fighting "to rid the MPD of the political interference from city hall that unfortunately continues to negatively impact this organization." Mayor Suarez says he understands Acevedo plans to contest his termination at a special city commission meeting later this week.
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As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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