Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina retired on Friday, after three years as chief and over 30 years with the Miami Police Department. On his last day in office, he spoke with PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler about experiences early in his career and over the past year.

Chief Colina has placed a high priority on communicating directly with the Miami community and his officers.  In addition to traditional news media interviews, Chief Colina has produced many short videos on topics ranging from COVID infections among police officers and demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis to the November election and the importance of suicide prevention initiatives.

The videos are posted on the Miami Police Department’s Facebook account and other channels. In some cases, news media organizations have featured Chief Colina’s videos in their stories and posted them, widening their reach. Today’s Critical Issues Report includes links to some of the videos he mentioned during his PERF interview.

Chuck Wexler: How did you decide to become a Miami cop?

Chief Colina:  I was a history major in school 32 years ago, and I was having a conversation with my girlfriend, who is now my wife. I had been thinking I would go to law school, but I told her that what I thought I really wanted to do was be a police officer. She told me that I shouldn’t become an attorney just to please someone else, and to do what was in my heart. A week later, I applied. I just needed one person to encourage me. It didn’t take a lot.

Wexler: Who were some of the major influences on your career?

Chief Colina: There have been so many different people. I’ve been so fortunate. I don’t know why people have taken me under their wings, coached me, and given me advice. I noticed some of my peers didn’t get the same attention.

I was on the job a couple months, and my first sergeant was already calling me over to tell me to be mindful of this and careful of that. When I only had six months on the job, it was my daughter’s birthday and I was embarrassed to ask for a day off because I was new. I finally asked my first sergeant and he told me, “George, when you come to work, work hard, do right by people, and are a good public servant, it’s okay to ask for these things. Come and do your job well, and you’re not going to have a problem in this department. You’re going to go far.”

It was such simple advice, and he explained it in such an easy way.

Wexler: What was your experience working under former Miami Chief John Timoney?

Chief Colina: Leading up to John Timoney’s arrival, we had a string of controversial shootings. And we had a corruption scandal, which is the reason why the mayor at the time, Manny Diaz, thought it was important to bring in an outside chief. We were having a lot of difficulties.

John Timoney came from some big departments, and he didn’t normally interact a lot with the regular officer. He was used to the big city, where you come in, go to your office and do your job, go out in the field and do your job, and you go home.

But he took a liking to me, and he ultimately sent me to internal affairs to help get the department clean and keep it clean. He provided a lot of advice, and I was always very grateful for that advice.

I remember working during the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) event in 2003. I was watching as some anarchists walked over to a field and started putting rocks and bricks in their bags. I got on the radio to ask to send some officers over, because I was in plainclothes. I saw some officers on bicycles, waved them down, and said, “I need you to go take those guys down right now.” I heard a voice say, “Okay.” It sounded just like the chief, and when I looked over, it was the chief, John Timoney, on a bike with a bunch of staff. They rode over there and took the guys down. I thought, “Oh no, I just gave the chief a direct order.” But he followed it! That was quite the experience.

Wexler: What steps did Timoney take to reduce officer-involved shootings?

Chief Colina: One of the lessons I learned from him is that you have to message two ways. One is external: what you say to the general public and the media, and how you say that. When he came in, the way he communicated to the public and the media was quite clear. “We will harbor no criminals here at the Miami Police Department.” That was his first statement when he got here, and I remember it like it was yesterday. To the public, he was already messaging, “Don’t worry, we’re going to start working on changing this.”

The messaging internally was similar, but very different in the delivery. He went around telling everyone, “Listen, just because you can shoot someone and justify it doesn’t mean that’s what you do. You really, legitimately only use deadly force as a last resort. We’re going to write it very specifically into our policies, and you’re going to follow it. Because if you don’t, you’re going to be held accountable.”

It sounds like a similar message, but it was a different way of communicating with us. It was very plain and simple to understand, and you could tell that it was completely sincere. He made it very clear, and you could tell he wasn’t playing.

Wexler: And he took people off the streets, which also reduced use of force, correct?

Chief Colina: Yes. People were transferred out of some of the more aggressive units we had at the time. There was an intersection of the war on drugs and all these shootings. Often it was guys jumping out of an unmarked vehicle wearing perhaps a badge around their necks, but not much more to identify themselves as officers. The dopers on the corner thought they were getting ripped off. A lot of times you’d end up with shots ringing out.

He changed the whole street narcotics element and how we approached the drug problem. Policy was put into place to make the expectations clear for some of these more aggressive units.

Wexler: And crime went down during this period, correct?

Chief Colina: Crime started to go down pretty significantly every year. Obviously we all want that absence of crime. He made it clear that we would be able to achieve that if there was a police presence. The presence doesn’t have to be menacing or plainclothes officers jumping out. There just has to be a presence and a relationship with the community. That’s when the bike unit was introduced, so officers would have a better chance to get to know the community. A lot of other initiatives were launched: the neighborhood resource officers, and they took a lot of positions and turned them into beat positions, so officers were assigned to very specific neighborhoods. They wouldn’t answer calls for service unless they were right in that area. The goal was to create relationships.

Wexler: Shifting to more current events – how has this past year been for you?

Chief Colina: I’ve never seen anything like it in my last 30-plus years. The challenges have been pretty extraordinary. I feel battle-hardened, probably like a lot of chiefs. I can face pretty much anything now.

I also feel fortunate that I was in this position during this time. I felt that I had established a good relationship and trust with the community. I feel like the officers have responded to me in this position.

Before we had any protests, I was able to speak with the officers through a video that I sent to everyone. We spoke about what had occurred with George Floyd. We spoke about the possibility of having protests here in Miami. I told them, “Please don’t take this personally. Please recognize that this is a watershed moment. If someone lashes out at you, they’re lashing out at the uniform, not you. So please take the high road and don’t take it personally. Let’s show them that we’re a professional police department and they can count on us.”

The messaging to the community was really the same. “Please give us an opportunity. Don’t judge us by anyone else’s actions. Judge us as individuals. It’s what you would ask us to do, so please treat us the same. We’re here for you, and we’re going to protect your right to protest. But there’s a middle, common ground we can reach here. Nowhere does it say that there needs to be a divide, so let’s work towards that common ground.” I think the community really responded to that.

Wexler: You’ve used a lot of video to communicate this year. Why do you keep going back to that mode of communication?

Chief Colina: It’s been nonstop because it’s been effective. I used that video to prepare my officers for the resentment that might come. I spoke directly to the community through Facebook, and then the news media would play a lot of these clips, which was great. I’ve used it for everything.

With COVID, I used videos to explain to the officers what we were doing and what we were trying to do. I asked them to please be patient with the general public and issue warnings instead of enforcement when they could, because people lost their jobs and had to leave work to take care of people who were ill. I encouraged them to support the restaurants doing takeout, if they had the means to do so. Then some of these clips are picked up by the media, and the businesses are happy that the chief is encouraging the officers to buy takeout, so we all take care of each other.

Sometimes the videos were very short. “We have this many officers who are COVID-positive. We have this many officers who are quarantined. We’re checking on them daily. I’ll keep you updated like this.” They felt informed, and they didn’t feel like they were out there on their own. It was very effective.

We had an incident here where we had to arrest some officers. I did a video and sent it to the department explaining what had happened. Then I did a press conference talking about the officers we had to arrest after this investigation. The officers appreciated that they were told first, and they didn’t have to find out about it on the news.

Wexler: And tell me about how you used video to debunk a protester’s allegations against your officers.

Chief Colina: This was a college student who had already been arrested a couple times prior. She gave a report to the local media where she said she was simply protesting on the sidewalk, the police came and arrested her for no reason, and she believes it was because she was an organizer. It concerned me when I saw that get a lot of play in the media. I didn’t address it immediately, because I didn’t want to add fuel to it. But it started to go viral.

I knew her story wasn’t the case. We were able to go back and pull body-worn camera video of when she was actually arrested. She was on the street, obstructing, and she was being told, “Please ma’am, there’s plenty of space on the sidewalk. We don’t want to arrest you. Can I give any of your property to your friends so you don’t have to turn it in at the jail?” The officer was a perfect gentleman.

We showed that video, and I added a message to the public saying, “Please don’t allow yourself to be manipulated. If there’s a question or an officer has done something wrong, let us know and we’ll investigate it. I’ll hold them accountable, I promise you. But let’s not antagonize each other and allow ourselves to be manipulated.”

It was very effective. That media outlet felt compelled to come back and say, “That wasn’t accurate and we need to do better.”

Wexler: What impact did that have internally?

Chief Colina: That part surprised me. I didn’t realize the officers would respond the way they did. They were so pleased that I came out, played this video, and said this. They felt like someone had their back by going to that level to show the allegation just wasn’t true. We tell them that if they do the right thing, we’ll protect them, and we did.

Wexler: Did you receive a lot of support from the community this year?

Chief Colina: The community let the officers know how grateful they were. We’d get stuff sent to the station daily, from all kinds of people – gifts, food, and letters of appreciation. It was remarkable how the community showed their love for our police department. This is not Mayberry. We’ve made plenty of mistakes and we’ve had our issues. So it was pretty extraordinary for them to show the love they did.

Wexler: Last year, when you announced your retirement, you did a video to the community in which you discussed your accomplishments and the goals you had set for yourself and the department.  In another video, you offer candid advice to your successor as Miami police chief. What will you miss most about being the Miami police chief?

Chief Colina: I think it will be the ability to help. When there’s a crisis going on, I can offer some value. I may not have all the answers and I don’t always make the right decisions. But I feel that I have something to offer. So I think I will miss being able to help. I like helping, and I think that’s why most of us get into this business.

Wexler: What’s next? What’s your “Chapter 2”?

Chief Colina: Chapter 2 for me will hopefully be consulting. I’d love an opportunity to help other departments with crisis management, crisis communications, and speaking plainly, truthfully, and being transparent. A lot of people are afraid of that, which I understand. When you’re vulnerable that way, it makes you a little uneasy. I’d love to be able to speak to public-sector and private-sector executives about that. So that’s one niche I’m hoping to explore, because I enjoy it and I think people would benefit from it.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.