Riviera Beach, Fla. – The top five candidates to serve as the next police chief of predominantly African American Riviera Beach were introduced to several hundred members of the public Friday during a forum at John F. Kennedy Middle School where ethics within the department was a key concern raised.

The candidates include several African Americans, among them Dr. Robin Starks of Miami Gardens, the only woman vying for the post along with Riviera Beach Maj. Travis Walker and former Delray Beach Capt. Michael Coleman, as well as two White males, interim Riviera Beach Police Chief Joshua Lewis and Thomas Herion of the Chicago.

Coleman, who has an Army as well as law enforcement leadership background, said “Your manhood, your ethics, and your morals are critical.” Coleman said he even wants to work closely with clergy. “I want to meet with pastors and deacons because they have large groups whom they know well. You have to have an open and accessible chief and department. That’s critical.”

Herion, who had a longstanding career with the Chicago Police Department and whose father retired as a Chicago officer in charge of organized crime, said his answer on ethics is simple: “My parents taught me well. They taught me morals, ethics and values.” His father is his greatest example of an officer and a man, he said.

Lewis, who’s been with the Riviera Beach Police force for 26 years and became interim chief in early 2022, said the community needs to know their chief and that community policing is his philosophy. “You can never engage too much with the community,” Lewis said.

Starks, a career officer and commander from Miami Gardens, was with the Miami Police Department for 27 years before retiring and then taking on a leadership law executive position with Gardens, and has received 35 commendations and special awards and recognitions over her 30-year career. “It’s awesome,” Starks told the South Florida Times regarding making the top five. “I’m certainly looking forward to the challenge.” She also said she believes in giving recognition to those on her staff. “My staff needs to hear and see that their work is appreciated.”

Walker, another candidate with a long tenure on the city force, having worked through the ranks and been with the Riviera Beach department for more than two decades, said “My leadership style is to lead by example. You must have ethics, morals, and integrity. And you will have to make tough decisions, some unpopular.” Walker earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida A&M University, and his parents, who were noted educators in the Palm Beach County School District, were in the audience. “You must gain the trust of your community,” Walker said.

Officials of the waterfront city of nearly 40,000, just north of West Palm Beach, have been introducing myriad family friendly events and activities aimed at countering its long fought high crime reputation.

The turmoil in some quarters of the city has been reflected in the department.

In a recent example, former Chief Nathan Osgood abruptly resigned after he ordered a subordinate to “unarrest” Councilman Douglas Lawson following a domestic battery charge. Lawson’s now wife refused to cooperate, and the case was dropped. But the flap cost Osgood and Lewis was elevated to interim chief in April 2022.

In addition to questions from the audience during the forum, the candidates were asked to leave the head table, walk among, shake hands with and get to know their potential constituents.

Several audience members said it was important to see the candidates up close to put a face to their names, and they are hoping the candidates’ words will become reality. “I’m looking to see persistence over the next ten years,” said city Housing Authority Commissioner Horace Towns. “That’s the kind of leadership this city needs.”

The chief choice is City Manager Jonathan Evans’ to make. He said he wanted the input of residents and City Council members, and thus held the forum. He will choose the new chief around the beginning of February, he said, adding that the decision will be a difficult one.

“This is an exceptional group,” Evans said. “They have been interviewed, questioned, vetted and prodded over the last couple of weeks. You would be hard-pressed to find another community to come up with the right person as we’ve done. We’re doing our job. But rest assured, one of these five individuals will be our next police chief of the great city of Riviera Beach.”