Florida City’s first Black female police officer retires
By Derek Joy
The time came on a day when America commemorated the 12th anniversary of the horrific acts of terrorism that rocked the world on Sept. 11, 2001. More than 2,800 people were killed when terrorists flew commercial jetliners in New York’s Twin Towers, a Department of Defense Building in Washington, D.C. while two passengers aborted a terrorist mission and crashed a third plane before hitting its intended target.
Her retirement became official on such a memorable occasion, just as her career in law enforcement took flight as a first for the Florida City Police Department 31 years ago. Florida City Police Officer Valerie Hughley officially retired Sept. 11, 2013, bringing to an end a landmark career in law enforcement in the southern most municipalities in Miami Dade County.
“To be honest, being a police officer was not my intention at the time,” said Hughley, a 1974 graduate of South Dade High school and mother of two. “I had two kids (a daughter and son who are deceased) and I didn’t want to go on welfare.”
“I started out in a C.E.T.A. Program called New Careers. We took college classes three days a week and worked two days a week in OJT (On-the-Job Training) positions. I work-ed as a Public Service Aide.”
At the end of the one year, federally funded Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (C.E.T.A.), municipalities would then sponsor participants in the Police Academy.
Hughley was the first to be sponsored by Florida City, the southernmost municipality in Miami Dade County hailed as “The Gateway to the Florida Keys”, into the Police Academy. And, on July 2, 1982, Hughley became Florida City’s first Black female police officer. Now, she is this city’s first female police officer to retire after the requisite tenure, serving nearly 31 years.
“I remember it well,” said Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace, who was a member of the City Council when Hughley was hired.
“I think, eventually, the first is always difficult. We had passed the racial first because we had three Black male police officers when she was hired. But she was the first Black female.
Her employment was very significant beyond race. Coming from the community made her an asset. She brought a working knowledge of the people and the community. That knowledge made it easier for her to resolve some conflicts easier than someone who didn’t know the community or the people.”
During that eventful 31 year career, Hughley worked virtually every assignment in police work. She worked in patrol, D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), PAL (Police Athletic League), school resource officer and communications.
That work also included community policing assignments where she organized events and activities for youth and senior citizens, activities which include bible study, fishing trips and other field trips.
“The thing that kept me there was the favor of God,” Hughley said, recalling the struggles of 31 years of law enforcement work, all with Florida City. I worked for the School Board Police for about six months and came back.”
“I had other opportunities. But I had two kids in school and a home here. So there were advantages to being here. I really believed there was a purpose for me here. I was able to do a lot of community service.”
That groundbreaking, fulfilling career in law enforcement was not without hardships and challenges. Racism permeated the Florida City Police Department when Hughley was hired. There was a matter of enduring sexual harassment from then Police Chief Willie Duncombe, who was later ousted. Hughley and two other female officers sued and recovered damages.
And there was the tragic, almost fatal accident that occurred on Nov. 3, 2001, while Hughley responded to an emergency call.
“I was t-boned by a car coming off the Turnpike. I suffered head and back injuries. That’s the reason I retired now, instead of next year like I had planned. My body just can’t take it anymore.”
It didn’t take but a quick moment to respond to the question of noting the highlight of her career.
“My highlight of 31 years was being able to perform public service to the youth and senior citizens. I enjoyed being a servant. And I retired with my name, myself respect. I don’t have to hold my head down.”