'A Unique Aspect' - An Interview with MDPD’s Director Patterson
story & fotos by José Pérez
In the Social Work Dictionary, Dr. Robert Barker defines resiliency as “the human capacity … to deal with crises, stressors, and normal experiences in an emotionally and physically healthy way.” That definition seems be embodied in the person of Miami-Dade Police Department Director J. D. Patterson. Exhibiting resilience and channeling it into excellence has served Patterson well, dating back to long before he began his 28 year career with one of the United States’ largest police departments.
“I was brought up in a violent family,” Patterson shared with no hesitation during an interview at MDPD’s headquarters in Doral. “I come from a dysfunctional background – still do as a matter of fact,” said Patterson, who is the only person in his immediate family to have graduated from high school. That dysfunction was so much a part of Patterson’s life growing up in Brownsville that his first research paper was a report he wrote on alcoholism – as a fifth grader.
Indeed, that “effective coping style” that Barker says is resilience allowed Patterson develop a keen awareness of human beings and how they express their needs which explains a lot about his approach to law enforcement. “I realized that violence was not very productive,” said Patterson who described himself as someone who “would have been [labeled as] ‘at-risk’” as child growing up in Miami.
Patterson, however, made no apologies about his experiences. In fact, he seems to embrace them. “It makes my empathy a little stronger,” said Patterson, “especially towards children.”
Because he sees both physical and verbal violence as “destructive to everything,” Patterson said that “violence is not acceptable at any time.” Patterson recognizes the “emotional nature of violence” and the universal human emotion of anger but there are alternatives to violent expressions of anger. “We all get mad,” commented Patterson, “but if they don’t want to talk about a problem, they should go to jail” if people resort to violence.
Patterson is not, however, a proponent of an exclusively punitive approach to law enforcement. “I see crime as a symptom, an indication of a problem,” said Patterson, who added that “violence is our greatest problem.” He is particularly concerned about violent crimes among Miami-Dade County’s youth. “We have to break the cycle” of violence, said Patterson.
Patterson spoke about alternatives to violent expressions of emotion such as organized sports programs and professional therapeutic interventions. He also mentioned plans to organize town hall meetings to explore and discuss different resources for alternatives to violence in the community.
Still, Patterson’s window for getting things started under his watch is a small one. He had already submitted his paperwork for retirement when he was named acting director to replace outgoing director James Loftus last autumn (“I was hoping he’d stay longer,” said Patterson of his predecessor). “I’m not going to be here forever,” said Patterson who is scheduled to retire in three years. Patterson added, that “the reality is that the department needs to start developing young future leaders,” especially with so many of his colleagues that started with him during a hiring boom in the early 1980’s will retiring with him.
With a finite period of time before he, too, must ride off into the sunset, is there someone in the Department’s current ranks that can successfully
Who could that future director be? Patterson was too focused on the tasks before him to even begin to speculate on who that might be but he did speak of an interesting possibility for Miami-Dade County. Describing himself as “the right man at the right time,” Patterson added that he thinks that “there will be a right woman at the right time.”
“Miami-Dade’s time is coming.”
Given the time he has to do his job as director, Patterson’s sense of urgency to get involved and make progress appears to dovetail with the community’s hurry to address pressing issues of crime and violence. “I’ve been an intervener all of my life,” said Patterson who is also a minister as well as a cop. “It is a unique aspect to what I do.”
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