Miami taps Houston's top cop for police chief post

November 2020 photo of Houston police Chief Art Acevedo (KPRC)

MIAMI – Art Acevedo, the Houston police chief who forged a national profile by calling for gun control, marching with protesters after George Floyd's death and criticizing former President Donald Trump, is taking the top job in the Miami Police Department, officials said Monday.

“We went out and got what I feel is America's best chief," said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez standing alongside Acevedo at a news conference Monday after describing him to The Miami Herald as the Tom Brady or Michael Jordan of police chiefs.

Acevedo, 56, is expected to begin the job in four to eight weeks. He is replacing Chief Jorge Colina, who retired in February, becoming Miami’s fifth chief the past decade.

Acevedo was born in Cuba but came to the U.S. as a refugee with his family when he was 4 years old. He became the first Hispanic to run Houston’s police department in November 2016, overseeing a 5,400-person force with a more than $1 billion yearly budget.

The Miami police force is much smaller, with a staff of 1,400, and is overshadowed by the Miami-Dade County Police Department with more than 3,000 police officers. When asked why he had taken on a smaller force, Acevedo said his time was coming up in Houston with Mayor Sylvester Turner's final term coming to an end and said he had enjoyed visiting Miami and highlighted the downtown and Little Havana districts.

“My heart was here,” he said adding that he had opportunities in Los Angeles and with President Joe Biden's administration.

He sent an email to his department, calling the move “truly bittersweet," the Houston Chronicle reported.

“We have been through so much as an extended family; Hurricane Harvey, two World Series, a Super Bowl, Irma, the summer of protests, and most recently, an ice storm of epic proportion," Acevedo wrote.

At a Monday news conference, Houston's mayor said Acevedo called to tell him he had taken the job in Miami on Sunday, which took him by surprise, but he wished him well in his new job.

“A lot of us hate to see him leave the city of Houston,” Turner said. “I also realize this is an extraordinary opportunity for him at a time when he is one of the nation’s leading voices in law enforcement."

Acevedo is a registered Republican who spoke by video on the opening night of last year’s Democratic convention. That appearance came after Acevedo responded sharply to a demand by 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.

Acevedo is active on Twitter, calling for gun control and weighing in on other national issues. He has an image as a progressive reformer but has faced scrutiny.

A task force appointed during last summer's protests over racial injustice made more than 100 recommendations for improving Houston's police department.

Houston is still dealing with fallout from a deadly raid on a “no-knock” warrant in 2019 that led to the indictment of a dozen current and former officers tied to a police narcotics unit.

At the time, police accused a couple of selling cocaine from their home. The couple was killed in the raid, and their relatives have sued. Prosecutors have since accused one of the officers who led the raid of lying to obtain the search warrant. The officer was charged with murder. And Acevedo announced a few weeks after the raid that the police department would no longer use no-knock warrants.

On Monday, Acevedo acknowledged the problem with bad policing and said he thought he brings a new perspective to the Miami Police Department.

“There's a lot of pain in this nation. Unless we take the time to feel that pain, process that pain, acknowledge that pain of communities of color that disproportionally are impacted by bad policing, we will never get beyond the summer of 2020,” Acevedo said.

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

He served in the California Highway Patrol, working his way to chief in 2005. Before becoming Houston's top officer, he became police chief in Austin, Texas, in 2007.

In Miami, Colina led the department through federal oversight after a series of police shootings, the pandemic and last summer’s protests.

Criticism of Black Lives Matter protests has resonated in Miami where many Cubans accused supporters of being far-left socialists who promote anarchy. Members of the exile community were triggered by hammer-and-sickle graffiti found on a city monument during June protests over Floyd’s death.

"Do not confuse kindness for weakness," Acevedo said regarding his gestures over the past year to advocate for police reform. 'We believe in social justice, we believe in social reform, but we also believe in the rule of law. And guess what? they are not mutually exclusive and you can do both."


Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.