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New Miami-Dade schools police chief is a veteran of the force

Ivan Silva is formally sworn in as the Chief of the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department at the district's headquarters in downtown Miami on Nov. 28, 2023. The department is the largest school-based police force in the country with 500 sworn officers.
Kate Payne
/
WLRN
Ivan Silva is formally sworn in as the Chief of the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department at the district's headquarters in downtown Miami on Nov. 28, 2023. The department is the largest school-based police force in the country with 500 sworn officers.

The country’s largest school police force has a new leader.

Ivan Silva was officially sworn in as chief of the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department on Tuesday. Silva had been serving as interim leader after former chief Edwin Lopez stepped down in January to lead the Doral Police Department.

Silva has spent 28 years in the Miami-Dade schools police force, beginning his career as a school resource officer at West Miami Middle School before moving his way up the ranks, according to an official district biography.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of my journey has been the opportunity to touch lives of countless students. Our schools are not just buildings — they are sanctuaries of learning, growth and potential,” Silva said at the swearing-in ceremony at the school district’s headquarters in downtown Miami on Tuesday.

“It is a privilege to serve as guardians of our most prized treasure — our youth.”

District’s new police chief is homegrown

Silva is a native of Queens, N.Y, who moved to Barranquilla, Colombia, at age six before coming to Miami and graduating from Miami Sunset Senior High School, according to a department biography. He holds two degrees in Criminal Justice — an associate’s degree from Miami Dade College and a bachelor’s from Florida International University.

In his nearly three decades on the force, Silva has served in a number of roles, including as the department’s Public Information Officer, as a Commander in the Administration Division, and a Major overseeing the district’s compliance with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

READ MORE: Black youth are still being arrested at higher rates in Miami-Dade County

Speaking at Tuesday’s ceremony, MDCPS Schools Superintendent Jose Dotres praised Silva’s integrity and dedication — and said the chief is proof that the district can grow its own leaders.

“What's really remarkable, that really sets him apart is the heart that he has … someone that I know is honest to his core. Highly intellectual. Has a lot of integrity for the work that he does,” Dotres said. “He knows our students, he knows our community and he will provide the sense of leadership that this community deserves.”

Nation's largest schools police department

MDCPS is now the third largest school district in the country. But with 500 sworn officers, the district’s police force is the largest in the U.S.

A state law passed in the aftermath of the deadly 2018 Parkland shooting requires every public school in Florida to have at least one police officer on site.

READ MORE: Since Parkland, There's Nearly Twice As Many Police Officers In Florida Schools. Some Student Activists Want Them Out

While many districts contract with municipal police departments and sheriff’s offices to staff their schools, MDCPS has its own dedicated police force, complete with a K-9 unit and police command center.

That’s at a time when some school districts in other parts of the country are turning to alternatives to policing or reducing the number of school resource officers on campus.

“We're doing the opposite. We're increasing the size of our force,” Silva said. “And we continue to train anything that comes available to help our officers to get better and be better equipped to face different situations in our schools.”

Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Ivan Silva speaks to reporters after being officially sworn in to office on Nov. 28, 2023.
Kate Payne
/
WLRN
Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Ivan Silva speaks to reporters after being officially sworn in to office on Nov. 28, 2023.

Recent report finds persistent racial disparities in arrests of Black youth

Among the challenges facing Silva is addressing racial inequities in youth arrests.

A recent report commissioned by the Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust raised continued concerns about racial disparities in the arrests of young people.

The analysis found that while the number of young people being arrested in Miami-Dade County has fallen significantly over the past decade, Black youth are still far more likely to be arrested than their white or Latino peers.

The study examined arrest rates across a number of local law enforcement agencies, including the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department.

The report, which was authored by researchers at the University of Miami, found that the increase in SROs [School Resource Officers] has led to an increase in the number of children referred to the juvenile justice system — and “the over-surveillance and criminalization of ‘normal’ youth behaviors in Black communities.”

Among the recommendations in the report is “[o]verhauling or eliminating the current school policing model", as it has resulted in a "greater number of arrests for Black and Latinx youth in school" for offenses that had typically been handled by teachers or school administrators before the increase in SROs.

When asked how he would work to reduce racial disparities in the arrest rates of Black students, Silva said he’d “continue doing what we’ve been doing."

“Our department has great success in keeping our schools safe,” Silva said. “That’s going to be my main goal — to continue doing what we’ve been doing. If anything, to continue to explore different options to make our job a lot easier and to make sure we can benefit any which way we can to make our schools safer.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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