The bad boys never had much luck against Charles Press.
The former Key Biscayne police chief and his fellow officers in Miami Beach made thousands of arrests during his 46-year law enforcement career in South Florida – protecting the public devious “Cocaine Cowboys”, rounding up desperate Cuban refugees from the Mariel Boat Lift and weathering a series of five riots in the Miami area, including Overtown and Liberty City.
During all these years of handcuffs, sirens and arrests, one culprit has remained elusive: the fearsome green iguana.
It was during his 17-year stint in Key Biscayne that Press was named acting head of the public works department.
“We were trying to rid the village of the iguana problem we had then, so now I’ve suddenly become the head iguana hunter,” Press said with a laugh. “I never thought in my career that I would be hunting iguanas, so it became one hell of a joke between us. We had a lot of them, but there are a lot more.
For all his efforts — including, perhaps, his iguana-hunting days — Press will be among the final five inductees into the Florida Police Officers Hall of Fame in Tallahassee.
His plaque will be placed in the Florida Capitol Building during a ceremony on May 21.
“It’s quite an honor,” Press, 67, said as she relaxed at home and took the day off on her “to do” list. “When you think about it, of all the thousands and thousands who have dedicated their lives to this profession, and it’s not just that they do it by appointment (from five major organizations), but they only take five (people). It’s a pretty small company, and quite unique.
“It is the most humbling honor I have ever received.”
The Hall of Fame was established in October 2014 to allow the Florida Department of Law Enforcement “to honor law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line for the safety and protection of citizens and visitors to the Florida for their exemplary work, service and achievement. ”
The tribute honors not only “their selfless dedication as everyday heroes,” but also those who help advance the field of law enforcement.
“It’s an honor that I didn’t earn alone,” said Press, who is also inducted into the Miami-Dade College Hall of Fame. “You have to have a team of people to help you succeed, like a good football team or a good corporate team. It’s great to be recognized for what I’ve done, but it also reflects the great work that’s been done in the Key Biscayne and Miami Beach police departments.
Inductions began in 2016 and only 30 former law enforcement officers were selected. Looking ahead, there are nearly 50,000 sworn officers in Florida, including some 7,000 in the City of Miami and Miami-Dade police departments alone.
One of the 2018 inductees was Fred Maas, who was in Press’s police academy class at Miami-Dade College and later served with the Miami-Dade and Sunny Isles Police Departments. “What are the chances?” says the press.
Tactics have changed over the years
Over the course of his career, Press changed his approach as a law enforcement officer, going from, say, the rough guy wearing a Charles Bronson badge to the related image of “Sheriff Andy.” It’s because he’s had the worst and the best times.
“As a young officer, I arrived at the most violent time in Miami’s history…the 1980 Mariel Boatlifts, the ‘Cocaine Cowboys’ (drug trafficking), five major race riots…the violence was extreme”, Press said. “Two of my friends (co-officers) were murdered by criminals. Several survived shootings. To survive, I had to have this very strong warrior mentality at the time.
“As life in South Florida changed and I grew as a person and a leader in different roles, I saw more of the humanitarian side of what a police officer should do. So I went from a warrior to (what the people of Key Biscayne have seen for 17 years). It was unique, very interesting.
Press, a graduate of Barry University in Miami Shores, served a year as president of the Miami-Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police and spent more than 29 years as the department’s deputy police chief. Miami Beach Police Department, where in 1983 he was named officer of the year. In 2008, he was inducted into the Miami-Dade College Hall of Fame.
In Key Biscayne, he helped the village consistently rank on Florida’s “safest towns” lists, even becoming nationally recognized for low or no crime in an area his size. A year ago, statistics showed Key Biscayne ranked 73.21% below the state average total crime rate and 72.19% below the national average total crime rate.
Its police department has achieved Excelsior status, placing it in the top 1% of accredited departments that have maintained the highest standards and best practices, and it has also introduced body cameras for full transparency.
Life on “Island Paradise” has pleased Press and his officers to become a “friendly face” in law enforcement.
“Back in Miami Beach, we put thousands of legitimate felons in jail, but it was totally different back then, a most intense narcotics time. Now it’s a whole different wave,” said Press.
“One thing I realized is that saving people’s lives is a feeling you never forget, and I’d rather do that than put someone in jail. But putting a really horrible person in jail is a good thing.”
In case you were wondering, Press still wears a badge.
“It says ‘Retired’ on it,” he laughed.