THE BIRTH AND EVOLUTION OF THE HPOA
by: Diego Mella & Raul J. Diaz
Revised by: David P. Jaramillo
In 1958 Miami-Dade County, formally known as Dade County, adopted the Home Rule Charter consolidating the Sheriff’s Department, County Fire, Corrections, and Animal Control into the newly created Public Safety Department. Very few Hispanics were found in the department at the time, some in supervisory positions. Sergeants Joe Fernandez, Al Molina and AI Carballosa along with Nick Navarro (Former Broward County Sheriff) contributed to the development of the young department.
In the early to mid-1960 as the Cuban exile community started to increase, so did the number of Hispanic officers in the department. These included Cesar Camacho, Fermin Reyes, Victor Vila, Avelino Fernandez, Manny Llera, Vicente Oller, Eddie Gonzalez (Former Metro Dade Police Department Deputy Director and former Director of the US Marshals Service) and Carlos Stuteville. Their bilingual ability exposed them to a variety of assignments. In 1964 Carlos Stuteville became the first Hispanic officer killed in the line of duty and the fourth in the history of the department up to that date.
The late 1960’s through the mid-1970’s, the Hispanic population of the department continued to increase although very slowly. During this period of time, many of the Hispanic officers gathered as an informal group in order to discuss common problems in the department and for social activities. Hispanic Officers such as Jesus Bencomo, Tony Prieto, Robert “Bobby” I. Gonzalez, Rene Bello, Diego Mella, Tony Socarras, Bernardo Bestard, Nelson Oramas, Juan I. “Pancho” Fernandez, Samuel Caballos, Carlos Alvarez (Former Miami-Dade Police Department Director and Miami-Dade County Mayor) and the first two Hispanic females June Hawkins and Grace 0’Donnell. These informal meetings grew into becoming the Hispanic Officers Association or HOA. The HOA was then founded in September 1974, at the Little Havana Activities Center located on Southwest 8th Street and Southwest 12th Avenue. Where formal meetings, elections, family picnics and dances were organized and held and community projects launched. Meanwhile maintaining a focus on the recruitment and promotions of Hispanic officers within the department.
In 1974 a Human Resources Office was created and Fermin Reyes was appointed Human Resources Coordinator to assist in the recruitment of Hispanic officers. At the time Hispanic officers represented only 4% of the department’s manpower and less than .20% of the supervisory staff.
On October 29, 1979, the HOA was renamed and incorporated as the Hispanic Police Officers Association or HPOA.
In February 2008, the HPOA added the Hispanic Police Officers Association Foundation, Inc. (HPOAF), which was created under HPOA President William Hernandez. The purpose of this corporation was to defray the expenses of the dependents of fallen police officers and assist in the educational expenses of the members and their dependents.
In July 2008, the HPOA badge with a ribbon above it trademark was registered with the Florida Department of State Division of Corporations. This trademark is now the official insignia of the HPOA and found on all of its correspondence and labels. Since 1974 to the present day, the HPOA has been actively involved in the recruitment of Hispanics, assisting new recruits and their families, in providing career enhancement training to all its members. The HPOA takes a leadership role in the Hispanic communities, and in establishing scholarships for the children of its members. Furthermore, by donating time and money to many charitable community based organizations.