By Harold B. Wilber, Col. USMC (Ret)
Former Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro
Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro hired me as his Director of Detention in August 1989 when I retired from the U.S. Marine Corps. I was introduced around and warmly welcomed into the Broward Sheriff's Office (BSO) family. I soon became comfortable in my job with the latitude I was given and the support I received from our other departments.
Not long after, Sheriff Navarro popped in on me at my Main Jail office. It was during the time he was conducting numerous drug stings around the county. I saw this meeting as an opportunity to express my concern over the overcrowding of the jails that was resulting in many inmates having no bed to sleep on. Sheriff Navarro looked me straight in the eye, poked my chest several times, and with his strong Cuban accent said "Director, I am taking criminals who are poisoning our kids off the streets, you find a place for them." I nearly snapped to attention, clicked my heels and saluted with my "yes sir!" We then coped with the help of the State Attorney, Public Defender and the Chief Judge through accelerated judicial and administrative processes that ironically were supported by Nick. Relief also came with Nick's notoriously won battle over confining inmates in tents, a practice adopted in many jurisdictions across the U.S. Nick always supported our jail improvements as well as new jail construction projects.
During my early tenure with BSO, Nick agreed to be the first to host the widely successful TV show COPS when no other agency was willing to take the risk of showing their police or deputies in action. A few episodes even showed Nick participating in dangerous raids right along with our SWAT team and deputies. Many labeled him a publicity hound. Sheriff Navarro however showed, like any good leader would, that he would not ask his deputies to do anything he would not do himself. Nick's long career in law enforcement, particularly in drug enforcement roles, rightly endeared him as a cop's cop.
The 2-Live-Crew episode where Nick tried to suppress the grossly offensive lyrics of that so-called singing group also had many calling his stance just another publicity stunt. The extensive focus on the First Amendment aspect of this imbroglio missed what Sheriff Navarro and BSO knew about this group of low-life criminals who eventually ended up in prison for drug dealing. Nick cared deeply about public comity and 2-Live-Crew harmed that.
I spent two nights in our jails checking on security and safety during Hurricane Andrew while my family holed up at home taking what precautions they could. After the tempest had passed I had just gotten home when Nick called to direct me to open up a vacant hospital in Hollywood, Florida so it could be used as a drop-off point for relief supplies and foodstuffs and as a barracks for police from around the nation arriving to aid in recovery efforts. One had to be on your toes with Nick because you never knew what might be coming next. He even had me make room in the Stockade jail housing unit for the homeless before and after Andrew. I had to subtly encourage him to let me force them out several weeks later, something he was reluctant to do. I learned his compassion for his fellow man knew no bounds.
Sheriff Navarro, like many, experienced family tragedy. Yet, he never waivered in his focus on service. His book "The Cuban Cop" did a good job portraying his legendary energetic crime fighting. But, what I remember most about Nick is that he was a good guy who cared.
By: Harold B. Wilber, Col. USMC (Ret)