Miami Beach police honor city's first black officer

Community room at police department named in his honor

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Family and friends gathered Wednesday at the Miami Beach Police Department to pay tribute to the city's first black police officer.

To officers who worked with him, he was James "Smitty" Smith. To the city, he was Maj. James W. Smith.

Officers and family members joined together Wednesday for the renaming of the Miami Beach Police Department's community room in Smith's honor.

"He was the epitome of a gentleman, in uniform and out of uniform," a retired Miami Beach police chief said.

But in 1964, he caught the public's eye for another reason -- his skin color.

"There were two water fountains (at the police station), the white and the colored," retired Miami Beach Police Chief Ken Glassman said. "The then-chief made sure that when he finished the police academy, there was only one water fountain."

Smith was Miami Beach's first black officer during a soon-to-be integrated but racially-tense America.

"He was a black cop in a black neighborhood where nobody liked cops," a former Miami Beach police chief said. "But he knew that he was doing the right thing."

Smith served in the Miami Beach Police Department until 1990, when he retired. He climbed the ranks as sergeant in 1971, lieutenant in 1975 and major in 1989.

Those who worked with him described him as a community man who respected everyone and received the same.

Smith died Jan. 31 at the age of 87. His two sons, Glenn and Rodney Smith, said they remember their father as a family man more than anything.

"My father showed me to respect people," Glenn Smith said. "You give the respect, and you demand the respect back."

Their adoration speaks to his legacy.

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