He was hired to clean up Miami Beach police department. After 5 years, he’s retiring

Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates announced that he will retire in June.
Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates announced that he will retire in June.

After five years at the helm of the Miami Beach Police Department, Chief Daniel Oates announced Friday that he plans to retire when his contract expires in June.

“It’s been a great experience working for you and with your leadership team, but it finally feels right to end my 38-year career in law enforcement,” Oates said in a letter he submitted to City Manager Jimmy Morales on Friday.

Oates’ announcement comes after a wild spring break that prompted one commissioner, Michael Góngora, to call for his removal and put a discussion of Oates’ contract on the April 10 City Commission agenda.

Oates declined an interview request and it wasn’t immediately clear whether he had already planned to retire in June. In his letter, Oates said that it was “always my plan to end my career here with the Miami Beach Police Department.” The announcement came 60 days before Oates’ contract expired, which is the required notification period.

Oates, 64, was hired in 2014 to clean up the police department after a series of embarrassing and sometimes deadly incidents. In 2011, officers from the Miami Beach police department and other agencies opened fire on Collins Avenue, spraying 116 bullets that killed a drunk driver and injured four bystanders. That same year, an on-duty officer took a young woman on an ATV joyride, running over and seriously injuring a couple lying on the beach.

Police Chief Carlos Noriega retired later that year and was replaced by his second-in-command, Ray Martinez.

In 2013, a Miami Beach police officer killed graffiti artist Israel “Reefa” Hernandez-Llach with a Taser stun gun. A medical examiner determined that the death was accidental and prosecutors declined to charge the officer. Martinez resigned the following year.

“As you know, I hired Chief Oates five years ago to address serious issues involving the lack of professionalism, discipline, ethics and integrity in the MBPD,” Morales said in a letter to commissioners announcing the retirement. “But I felt then that Chief Oates was up to the task, and I am proud to say that he has done exactly what he was tasked to do.”

Philip Levine, who was the mayor when Oates was hired, said that before Oates was brought in, the police department was “upside down” and didn’t have a protocol for use of deadly force.

“I would give you two words: mission accomplished,” Levine said. “He brought a level of professionalism and respect. He revolutionized our police department. ”

Oates recently faced criticism from residents and city officials who felt his officers weren’t being tough enough, however. Amid a rowdy spring break that caught international attention as visitors fought in public and engaged in other misbehavior, the city called an emergency meeting. Góngora urged the city manager to find a new police chief when Oates’ contract expired, although most of his colleagues spoke in support of the chief.

On Friday, Góngora said that he has heard a lot of complaints about public safety since rejoining the commission in 2017. (Góngora previously served between 2009 and 2013.) “I look forward to making sure we have a team in place that can make our city even better,” he said. “Sometimes an organization just needs new blood.”

During his tenure, Oates emphasized officer training and education and raised recruitment standards. Police misconduct claims against the city — which once reached over $1 million a year — disappeared. The city hasn’t had a claim filed against it related to police misconduct since November 2017, according to Morales.

Oates “modernized” the department, Morales said, implementing a body camera program and developing and expanding the city’s license plate reader and surveillance camera initiatives. He also worked closely with the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office on human trafficking investigations.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Oates’ retirement is a “huge loss.”

“He’s been a key leader in us putting together our complete human trafficking initiative,” she said.

Oates, who earned praise in 2012 for his handling of the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting as that city’s police chief, also promoted active shooter training for local businesses and religious organizations.

Prior to leading the Miami Beach and Aurora police departments, Oates was the chief of the Ann Arbor, Michigan, police department and chief of intelligence and general counsel for the New York City police department.

Morales said he plans to find a candidate to replace Oates by the city’s June commission meeting.