By Douglas Hanks
MIAMI – Miami-Dade County’s local government would lose its police department to a newly elected sheriff under a bill that passed the Florida Legislature Monday despite the objections of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.
Backed by the Florida Sheriffs Association, the legislation would kill the Levine Cava plan supported by the county commission to keep most of the police department under the mayor’s authority after a sheriff takes office in 2025 as mandated by a recent amendment to the Florida Constitution.
While Levine Cava wanted to turn limited county police duties over to the sheriff, the bill before Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature calls for Miami-Dade to hand over its entire police department.
Miami-Dade’s police union supported legislation that would prevent the county from retaining police officers when the sheriff takes office in January 2025. Steadman Stahl, president of the local Police Benevolent Association, said a powerful sheriff ensures voters can make a clear choice when it comes to public safety.
“You want a sheriff who will be responsible for crime, whether it’s good or bad,” said Steadman Stahl, president of the local police union. “If that doesn’t work out, the voters will remove them.”
Miami-Dade is the only county in Florida where the mayor also holds the powers of sheriff, an arrangement that was forced to end after voters statewide approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 requiring independent sheriffs.
Supporters of Miami-Dade retaining a police force argued that the county should be allowed to have officers assigned to areas outside city limits who would operate independently of the sheriff. Municipalities can maintain their own police forces under Florida law, while the sheriff has countywide jurisdiction.
The Florida Sheriffs Association sued, saying state law gives a sheriff exclusive police authority in a county’s unincorporated areas outside municipal boundaries. The legislation that passed the Senate on Monday clarifies the law in favor of the sheriffs.
The legislation (House Bill 1595) allows for a gradual shift in what the public will see from county law enforcement when the new sheriff takes office in January 2025. The bill allows for a three-year transition to move MDPD squad cars to the sheriff motif, including deputy badges with stars and a color scheme dominated by dark green.
Three municipalities that use county police for municipal services — Cutler Bay, Miami Lakes and Palmetto Bay — would have their contracts taken over by the sheriff’s office under the legislation. The bill’s sponsor said the legislation is the most logical outcome of passing the amendment requiring an elected sheriff.
“This is an implementation of the will of the voters,” said Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, a Republican who represents West Kendall. “This is very simple and not complicated. It’s one police department.”
The bill’s passage came on the same day Miami-Dade’s current police chief, Freddy Ramirez, filed to run in the 2024 Democratic primary for sheriff. Although allied with his boss and fellow Democrat, Levine Cava, Ramirez said he supports it legislation that lets the sheriff take command of the entire Miami-Dade police force.
“We need to make sure there is continuity with the Miami-Dade Police Department,” he said in an interview. “And that the transition is problem-free. So no one is left behind.”
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