Coping with the pressure of being a law enforcement officer goes with the territory.
Take, for example, the day when Boston-born Frank Sousa — a “huge” Red Sox and Patriots fan — was interviewed by Village Manager Steve Williamson to become Key Biscayne’s next police chief.
“He’s a huge Yankees fan, so imagine how that went ... talk about pressure!” Sousa said, laughing.
But, like his favorite baseball stars earlier this month, the boy from Beantown — even without the New England accent — prevailed in “wicked” fashion and officially will be sworn in at a public ceremony at 5:45 p.m. Thursday at the Village Hall Turtle Fountain, followed by a community gathering until 8.
“I’m excited to meet (the residents). My goal is to interact as much as possible in the first few months, so it won’t be uncommon to see me on my bicycle or walking around,” Sousa said Friday, following a morning round of golf.
“You do those kinds of things, like stopping to toss a football with a kid or seeing someone playing soccer and asking them who their favorite player is, and then your officers see what you’re doing and that changes their perspective on things.”
Becoming a police chief has been the ultimate goal for Sousa, 41, ever since he was a rookie at age 19.
“It’s funny. Ever since I was a little boy I wanted to be a cop,” he said. “I used to always watch “CHiPs” and was a big ‘Ponch’ and ‘Baker’ fan.”
With a family of five kids — “three are my own and two are bonus kids” — he’ll remain in Pembroke Pines (an hour from Key Biscayne), where he has lived since 1999, at least for the time being.
“I have three in high school and they’ll kill me if I pull them out now,” he said, jokingly.
Sousa, who has more than 22 years of police force experience — 15 in a command or supervisory role — had been the Assistant Chief for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.
Leaving there was an emotional moment, having served in various units, including patrol, marine, investigations, logistics and administration.
“It was a very unique feeling, obviously,” he said. “I spent half of my life there and am forever thankful, and more thankful for the Manager (Williamson).”
Earlier this year, Sousa was a finalist for the Fort Lauderdale Police Chief role, but his efforts were not in vain.
“I made it all the way to the end, which was very stressful, but that experience only prepared me for Key Biscayne,” he said.
Now he comes from a department with 722 employees (“and you get to know them all”) to 50, and 540 officers to between 35 and 40.
“Policing doesn’t change from big to little,” he said. “Everybody expects to feel safe and secure, and feel like they’re getting the best customer service when approached by an officer, or vice versa.”
While in Fort Lauderdale, he helped lay security plans for some huge assignments, such as Super Bowls, the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show, visits by political dignitaries, and protecting country stars and fans at the annual three-day Tortuga Music Festival from its inception in 2013.
Now, as a police chief, his mindset won’t change, he said.
“It’s so difficult to get there. I mean, it’s like leadership is bigger than you,” he said, “so you motivate your employees for the greater cause of the organization. Their success is my success and that means never settling for the status quo. Even when things are going great, you keep pushing to find ways to make things even better ... it’s much more than just the polyester shirt and the badge.”
At 5–foot-8, he pales in comparison with, say, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But, check out his biceps. He’s an avid high-intensity CrossFit athlete, training six days a week.
That kind of dedication parallels his police force training and successes along the way. He certainly has the credentials.
Sousa earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from Florida International University, followed by a Masters from Nova Southeastern. He also is a 2019 graduate of the FBI National Academy.
But his biggest honor may have come in 2016, when he was feted in San Diego by the International Association Chiefs of Police, recognizing him as one of the world’s “Top 40 Under 40” in law enforcement.
In Fort Lauderdale, Sousa was part of a team that hired 50 officers in one year — “a big accomplishment” — as well as representing the city for 17 years on its honor guard. He also helped introduce a widely accepted “active killer training” plan to the School Board and developed an in-house psychologist program for patrol officers and their families.
Spring break is “always a challenge” in Fort Lauderdale, but he said it became “second nature” to the police force after a while. But his success did not rely totally on arrests.
“I did my fair share of arrests — narcotics, drugs ...,” he said. “But it’s not about the biggest bust I made, it’s about being recognized in the community to instill calm, to (create and maintain) dialogue to make policing better.”
Speaking three languages — English, Spanish and Portuguese — helped that cause, with translations and relations, earning the trust of the area’s many diverse households.
“It’s about how to improve your view,” said Sousa, whose father is Portuguese and mother is Cuban. “In many South American countries, for example, they don’t necessarily have that trust (in police), but when we can speak their language, it shows them the humanistic side (of us).”
Sousa is no stranger to Key Biscayne. St. Agnes’ Pastor, Father Juan Carlos (JC) Paguaga, baptized Sousa’s immediate three children at another parish.
“He’s someone very near and dear to our family,” Sousa said.
Now, his mission is to preserve everyone’s safety and security on Key Biscayne.
Under former (retired) Chief Charles Press, who spent 17 years as the island’s police chief and even filled in as the interim Village Manager until Williamson was hired in May, Key Biscayne often was at or near the top of several “Safest Cities” lists in the state -- and even the nation in its population group.
“The goal is to keep it a safe community, one where people want to come to every day,” Sousa said, “to make it the ‘Island Paradise’ it’s always been known as.”
In order to do that, Sousa will take his time on making any changes at the onset, although he will keep his philosophy of running a “community-based agency.”
“I think, in fairness, I need some time to meet the staff,” he said. “I don’t know everyone yet. But I’ve heard concerns from the manager, concerns from some of the council.
“This isn’t going to be the ‘Frank Sousa Show,’ I can tell you that. I’m ultimately the one with the final decision, but I value the opinions of the staff.”
He also plans to keep his police force motivated, building up the strengths of his team, and even grooming the next chief so “there won’t be a need for another (national) search.”
Williamson was impressed with Sousa throughout the interview process.
“I think the community will like him,” said Williamson, who began the selection process back in June, as 28 candidates applied from across the nation. “We listened to what our residents wanted (a strong, community-minded leader). We’ve got a great one here.”
Sousa hopes he can occasionally find a little time to relax, watching “any sports,” including the Miami Heat, Florida Panthers and the Miami Hurricanes, in particular.
But, on NFL Sundays — after the family attends church — it’s a different story.
“My wife’s a big Dolphins fan,” he said, “so Sundays are very stressful around the house, as you might imagine.”
Life in law enforcement, it seems, is never dull. Even Ponch and Jon could agree.
Meet the new chief
The public is invited to attend the swearing-in ceremony for Key Biscayne Police Chief Frank Sousa at 5:45 p.m. Thursday at the Village Hall Turtle Fountain. That will be followed by a two-hour community meet and greet that includes hors d’oeuvres and light refreshments.