Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Interview with STU Alum Chief Rodolfo “Rudy” Llanes, City of Miami Police Chief

How did you first start down your career path?
In the early eighties there were some civil disturbances in the City of Miami. I was in middle school at the time and the City of Miami Police Department did an outreach to inner city neighborhoods in order to get youth involved with the police department. The Police Explorer program is a Boys Scouts sponsored program where youth get to ride along with police officers and assist them at special events. It was very interesting to me at the time because I had always wanted to be a police officer, but having that experience really molded me into wanting to become a police officer. It validated what I wanted to do. I have been wearing a uniform in this police department since I was fourteen years old, in one form or another. It has been a career path that was set by a calling more than by my desires. My getting to this office is the culmination of what started as a fourteen year old in the Police Explorer program.

You have been on the police force in Miami for 27 years, what has been the most rewarding aspect of working as a police officer? 
The most rewarding part of being a police officer is the feedback that you get after many years of encountering someone. When it was announced that I had been promoted to Chief, I received a call from a young man who is now a Federal Fire Fighter on a Navy base in Alabama. When I was a patrolman my partner and I used to run into him all the time at two o’clock in the morning out on the streets by himself. We took a special interest in this young man because he didn’t seem like a bad kid but he was hanging out at the wrong times and with the wrong crowd. My former partner and I, who had also been a Police Explorer, guided this young man through the Police Explorer program. From that he enlisted in the Air Force, became a Fire Fighter in the Air Force, and now he is a civilian Fire Fighter on a Navy base. That phone call really brought tears to my eyes because he told me that without my intervention in his life, it could have turned out very differently. That part of my job really solidifies what it means to be a police officer and really help people. I have arrested murderers and rapists have been involved in high speed car chases and foot chases, and all those things that look like fun on TV, but the outcome of somebody’s life being changed because you took an interest in them is really more rewarding than anything else. That has become somebody else’s success story that has become my success story.

You were recently appointed chief of police, after serving as assistant chief for more than three years, what has been the most challenging and the most rewarding part of this transition?
The most challenging part of the transition is that I am no longer giving advice to the boss on what he should do; I am now the boss and getting advice from somebody else and the decisions rest solely on my shoulders. It can be as minute as changing a report to as large as what is our new crime fighting strategy. It is a mental transition that has been exciting, but it has been challenging at the same time, and I don’t think you can ever prepare for that. I have been Acting Chief before when my boss was on vacation, but in the end he could reverse any decisions I made when he returned. Now the decisions rest solely on my shoulders; and that means the direction of the agency for the future and what we are actually doing now. It is difficult to train yourself for that eventuality, but it is also rewarding to know that I can actually have a hand in the future of this police department. I am very excited because we are going to be having a changing of the guard here in the next two years. There will be 200 officers at all levels retiring and there will be probably 300 new officers hired, so I am going to have an amazing opportunity along with my staff to be able to change the culture in this police department going forward. I am very excited about having the opportunity to make impactful and long-lasting change in this organization.

What are some of your goals for the department?
My goal is for the department to become more neighborhood oriented, and for us to really live the service model. When I visit roll calls I tell police offers that service means putting bad guys in jail, but it also means talking and communicating with the overwhelming majority of good people that live in this city, and letting them know that we are here to help them. Whatever that means, whether it’s a referral to another city service or helping somebody change their tire, we are a service organization. We have to get back to that mentality. During a recent staff meeting we were talking about that same concept, because we have advanced so much in technology, but really have to go back to the 1920s to see when policing was most effective, and that’s when we were out of our police cars and communicating with our citizens. We have to use to technology to leverage our actual work but we have to get back to actually connecting with the people that require our service and pay our salaries. I want to make that connection, and change the culture of our police department so that it is about service first. I want that to be at forefront of our police officers’ minds when I ask “what do we do for living?”, and that is to serve the public.

How do you think your education at St. Thomas University prepared you for the career you have had thus far?
Attending classes at St. Thomas University really gave me the opportunity to connect with other adult learners. The staff and the faculty is wonderful at facilitating your ability to learn and broaden your horizons past your actual day-to-day operations and what you need to learn to be more effective at your job. They gave us that chance to connect with other professionals and learn from them also. I think that that atmosphere of being with other professionals in other fields, who may experience very similar managerial problems but look at it from a different perspective really helps to broaden your base to be able to find solutions other than the ones that are in your building. I think that the exposure to other adult learners who are very intelligent in their field and leaders in their field makes you a better manager and makes you a better leader because of that experience. I think that that was the most valuable part of my education at St. Thomas University. Being there with other professionals and sharing similar challenges but looking at them in a different way was of great value to me and I hope to other students that I was in class with.

Who are your role models in your profession?
I have a number of role models, some that I have directly worked for, and some that are in our industry who are outside of the box thinkers. When Chief John Timoney was here he brought a wealth of knowledge and a national presence that it is to be learned from. He was not just our locally police chief, he was also a national leader and I admire that, and think that having that national scope of what the industry is going through is important. Nationally, the people I look up to are Charles Ramsey in Philadelphia and Roberto Villasenor in Tucson. They have both been appointed to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and are helping to repair some of our relationships with the community. They really take this industry and service to the next level by what they do and how they execute leadership in their police departments. Those are the people that I will try to model my leadership after because they are the pillars in our industry as to what a police chief should be. And that is more than just a day-to-day administrator of his agency, but an innovator who looks at other places where tactics have had success and try to implement them in your city. Those are the people that I will try to emulate leadership styles from.

If you could choose a different profession, what would it be?
If I could choose a different profession it would probably be a teacher or instructor at some level. I think that touching people’s lives by making a difference through ideas or experiences has been something that has always been very rewarding to me, and I don’t know of another industry that would give me that opportunity. Like the story that I told you about the young man in Alabama, it is one of the ways to be able to touch people in a meaningful way. As you look back at your life you remember those people that made an impact on your life with an idea or a story or an anecdote. I would like to be that person if I wasn’t doing this.

What advice would you give to current students?
St. Thomas University is a wonderful breeding ground for leadership, not only because of the faculty but because there are students attending from all walks of life with diverse backgrounds and professional responsibilities that if you take the opportunity to learn from them, you will enjoy that interaction and it will really be helpful to you in your development as a student and a leader. Take advantage of the people that are learning with you and their knowledge base, because it is a real force multiplier like we like to use in this industry to be able to gain knowledge from the faculty but from your fellow students.

Would you recommend St. Thomas University to other professionals in your industry?
I think that the ease of attending class either virtually or in person has real advantages for the industry that is EMS or police work where you have shift work that is very difficult to align to a traditional learning environment. In my cohort there were a lot of teachers, health care workers, fire fighters and police officers because they take advantage of the flexibility of the platform to learn. I would highly recommend St. Thomas University for people that are in shift work. The flexibility that St. Thomas University offers those industries is very valuable in the long run for everybody that wants to seek leadership positions going forward.

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