EXCLUSIVE: Boynton chief tells why he took a new position in Virginia

After nearly 20 years of working for the Boynton Beach Police Department, including four as its top cop, Chief Jeffrey Katz announced Tuesday he will retire in December to lead the Chesterfield County, Va., Police Department.

The announcement comes four days after a federal jury found Boynton Police Sgt. Philip Antico guilty of obstruction of justice for lying to FBI agents about a 2014 case. The week before, another federal jury convicted Officer Michael Brown of deprivation of rights under color of law and use of a firearm during a crime of violence for the beating of an unarmed Lake Worth resident involved in that case.

However, the verdicts played no role in Katz’s move. He said he’s been looking to relocate to Virginia since the summer, saying he was surprised how quickly it happened.

“Forty-eight weeks of summer has gotten old for me,” Katz, who recently married, told The Palm Beach Post. “I like the idea of a change in season and just living in a different area with maybe some land around my house and just a different kind of life.”

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Katz, who will retire about one month short of his official 20 years, made the announcement about his new position on social media through Twitter and Facebook. He spent Tuesday in Virginia where he attended a news conference announcing his new position.

“Today, @ChesterfieldVa is announcing my appointment as the next @CCPDVa chief. Next month, I’ll retire from @BBPD & @cityofboynton after a fulfilling 20-year career. I’m grateful. Look forward to serving alongside the men & women of one of Virginia’s premier policing agencies,” Katz wrote on his Twitter page.

In a Facebook post, he said he regrets making the announcement “in such an impersonal way.”

Katz, 45, hired as chief in July 2013, was the lieutenant in charge of the Professional Standards Division before being named chief, taking over an agency that had a magnitude of problems.

Boynton Police had recently dismissed the two majors and was dealing with an outside review that described the department as a “troubled organization” and “beset with strife.” It was dealing with cases of officers accused of having porn on a work computer, falsifying reports and drug-trafficking charges from the agency’s 2010 Officer of the Year.

Katz immediately went to work trying to change the image of the police agency, especially the relationship with the community. He held quarterly Town Hall meetings, worked with the Coalition of Clergy when they demanded body cameras and questioned officers’ use of force.

He also led the department through the ongoing heroin epidemic by promoting education, safety, and arresting alleged drug dealers. Through the changes, he was met with challenges: Officers on the wrong side of the law and public spats with his officers’ union.

“It’s been an adventure. There has never been a dull moment. It’s been rewarding and fulfilling,” Katz said. “As I said to my colleagues in the email I sent to them every person I’ve interacted with has taught me something and for that I’m very grateful. That’s 20 years of lessons.”

Mayor Steven Grant said Katz has done “an amazing job turning around the police department.”

Katz’s last day of work will be Dec. 20, and his official retirement date is Dec. 29.

Chesterfield County, south of Richmond, is a department about three times the size as Boynton with about 700 employees, serving a population about four times bigger. FBI statistics show that in 2016, the Virginia agency had about twice as many property crimes as Boynton Beach, but fewer violent crimes.

City Manager Lori LaVerriere, who appointed Katz first to interim chief and then chief, said she is “very proud” of Katz and, of the Virginia department, said “they got themselves a winner.”

“He’s ready to move on to a new chapter in life,” LaVerriere said. “I’m excited for him. It’s a natural next step.”

LaVerriere said she’s enjoyed watching Katz grow in leadership and as a law enforcement officer. Together, they embarked on improving morale within the department, she said.

“Part of me is sad to see him go,” she said. “We’re all going to miss him but this is what happens when you work with competent people and help prepare them for the next step in their career.”

LaVerriere will look at the department’s three assistant chiefs — Joseph DeGiulio, Vanessa Snow and Kelly Harris — to be named interim. LaVerriere is considering a national search for a new chief but will also accept interest from within the department. She said that is typically a 90 to 120 day process.

During his tenure, Katz has been met with great support, but also criticism, especially from the police union.

“I’m sure he was an honorable man but we just had our differences on contract negotiations and discipline,” said Palm Beach County’s Police Benevolent Association’s president John Kazanjian. “We didn’t see eye to eye on that stuff.”

Kazanjian said he hopes the city does a national search for its next chief. He said Katz had more learning to do before he became chief.

Commissioner Joe Casello said he’s “happy and disappointed” at the same time. He said Katz has turned the police department around and it’s now well-respected in the community. But he said the timing “is kind of unfortunate.”

The city is still working on details of the Town Square redevelopment project, which includes the building of a new police station slated for High Ridge Road off Gateway Boulevard. And the two police officers found guilty in federal court haven’t been sentenced yet. After the trials, Katz said he wanted to hire an outside expert to review the actions of all officers involved in the incident.

“There’s still turmoil if you will,” Casello said. “Hopefully it’ll be settled by the time he exits.”

Data researcher Mike Stucka contributed to this story.

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