After an intensive t h r e e – m o n t h national search, Pinecrest has a new police chief and he’s a 34-year veteran law enforcement officer who has spent the last 12 years as a member of the Village police department he now leads.
Samuel Ceballos, Jr., a trusted lieutenant in the administration of John Hohensee, the man he succeeds, foresees a smooth transition in the department’s change of leadership and says there will be few changes in the day-to-day operation.
“Residents will see some changes,” sad Ceballos. “But, hopefully, it will all be for the betterment of the community.”
Ceballos was raised in Gary, Indiana after his parents moved there from Chicago so his father could find work and his mother could escape life in the big city.
“My parents were both born in Puerto Rico and they met in Chicago,” he says. “My dad was a steel mill worker and they were married very young; my dad was 20 and my mom was 19.”
Ceballos was 12 years old when his father moved the family to South Florida and, at 35 years old, became a police officer with the Miami-Dade Police Department.
“My father has been my mentor throughout my life,” Ceballos said. “The reason I became a police officer is because I wanted to be like my dad. He’s been a role model for me, and for my brother and sister.”
His younger brother, Ricardo, is a 30- year law enforcement veteran who also was with Miami-Dade Police Department and retired after 25 years, and his sister, Raquel, was a homicide detective with Hialeah Police Department and later an FBI agent.
“We all followed in my father’s footsteps,” said Ceballos. “The only one who didn’t was my older brother, who became a pastor. We all thought the profession our father chose was an honorable one, so we all decided that if it was good enough for dad, it was good enough for us. None of us regret it; it’s very fulfilling.”
Ceballos, like his father, began his law enforcement career with the Dade County Public Safety Department in 1978, but transferred to Hialeah in 1980 where he spent 22 years as an officer.
“I was nearing retirement age when I became aware that a position as sergeant was available with the Pinecrest Police Department,” he said. “I decided to continue my law enforcement career with Pinecrest.” He joined the Village police department in 2002 and was named lieutenant 18 months later.
“I’m 54 years old now, so I’m really only eight years away from what is considered retirement age,” he said. “But, I have a 20-year-old daughter who’s a junior in college at FIU and she has aspirations of becoming a medical doctor. I want to make sure that she doesn’t incur too much debt in realizing her dream of being a doctor. She has at least eight more years of study before she will achieve her dream, so I’m going to be here at least that long.”
As for the future of the Village police department, Ceballos says there will not be wholesale change in its operation.
“I definitely want to keep what’s in place because it’s working for us,” he said.
“However, I want to improve those areas that can be improved. We’ve done a very good job since 2001 in professionalizing the police department though the accreditation process. I was a part of that when I took over as accreditation manager and I was able to get our department the ‘Flagship Agency’ designation through CALEA, and I’m very proud of that. I think that helped prepare me for this position as police chief because I became intricately familiar with every facet of the police department.
“We want to continue to set the standard for excellence for the rest of the law enforcement community in our area. I think we can continue to raise our prestige and our image in the eyes of the community, because the Village presently is very pleased and happy with the police force they have. I want to take that to the next level so they will have a real strong sense of pride in that they have the best police department in Miami-Dade County, and maybe in the state of Florida.
“I also want to elevate our standing in the law enforcement community by participating more with other agencies,” he said. “We have mutual aid agreements, but we don’t do a lot of training with other agencies; so I would like to do more of that.”
Ceballos also wants to curb the turnover of personnel in the department by developing new opportunities for young officers.
“We’re a small agency, so there is not a lot of opportunity for advancement for young officers,” he said. “The working conditions are excellent, the benefits are wonderful, the people they’re serving like them, so they’re in a very positive environment. What they’re lacking is mobility because there is only a limited chance for them to become specialists. My challenge is to create opportunities for our officers that make them want to stay because there are more things for them to do here than just being a patrol officer.”
Ceballos said the creation of specialized units within the department has been successful in retaining officers.
“Just a few weeks ago, we created the Crime Suppression Team (CST),” he said. “The members have a different uniform, a different look, more tactical. Their sole purpose is detecting and preventing criminal activity. Members do not handle routine dispatch calls for service, so they can focus their attention strictly on detecting criminal activity. The main focus right now is on residential and automobile burglary.”
Ceballos said he is considering establishing bike patrol officers and bringing back the canine unit.
“A canine unit does have a role here,” he said. “It provides another opportunity in specialization for an officer and the Village benefits from that in case there is ever a need for a canine unit.”
Ceballos said he is also considering the creation of a specialized traffic unit.
“Perhaps we will bring in a motorcycle squad to the department,” he said. “It offers our officers another opportunity for some specialization; it changes their routine from just normal patrol and it gives some opportunity for job enrichment.”
Ceballos added that traffic enforcement will continue to be a priority in Pinecrest. “Until such time that the residents say ‘we no longer feel that traffic enforcement should be a priority in the Village,’ it will remain a priority,” he said. “After all, that’s who we work for.”
Ceballos added that he believes strict traffic enforcement is a crime deterrent.
“The criminal doesn’t know why we stopped his car,” he says. “They don’t know that we pulled him over for speeding. And because Pinecrest has had a very strict traffic enforcement program, it has helped keep crime down in the Village. So, to depart from that policy, I think, would mean that we would see an increase in crime because we would give the impression to the criminal element that we are not as involved now in our enforcement.”