Despite opposition, Tampa City Council confirms Mary O'Connor as city's new police chief
Mary O'Connor will officially take over as Tampa's next police chief.
The Tampa City Council on Thursday voted 4-2 to confirm O'Connor, whose appointment by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor met with some opposition.
O'Connor, 51, who retired as assistant chief in 2016, had been fired from the department in 1996 after she was arrested after her future husband was stopped for drunken driving.
O'Connor kicked the windows of a patrol car and punched a deputy. She pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of battery and obstruction. She was fired, then later reinstated.
City Council Chairman Orlando Gudes and council member Bill Carlson were the dissenting votes.
"With great respect to the nominee, my vote is no because I object vigorously to the process," Carlson said. "And even though it looks like this is going to pass, I ask the administration to please start anew tomorrow and let's try to protect our community and bring democracy back."
Added Gudes: "Respectfully Mary, I'm still going to be your friend and I'm still going to do whatever I need to do to make sure you're successful here. But I have constituents that I have to answer to. I feel the process failed us, but again, I have constituents that I have to answer to in my community. But again, congratulations to you."
A number of members of the public also spoke at the meeting, with many taking issue with Castor's choice.
Some representatives of Tampa's Black community voiced concerns about O'Connor serving with the department while it was disproportionately stopping Black bicyclists.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report that found, that while police did not intentionally profile by race, their actions did not reduce crime or bike theft.
And representatives of the Hispanic community were disappointed that Interim Chief Ruben "Butch" Delgado, a West Tampa native who was also a finalist for the position, was not selected.
Delgado will remain with the department as assistant chief.
O'Connor addressed those issues before the vote.
"Today, we heard from many community members, and they had several concerns. We need to continue to allow this community to have a voice at the table. So we can work together to come up with some real solutions to problems," she said.
O'Connor also presented four priorities for her tenure as chief:
- Work side-by-side with all community members,
- Ensure that officers have a very robust safety and wellness program available to them,
- Reduce not just violent crime, but all crime,
- "I believe in having a strong quality assurance platform in place to ensure everyone in this city is treated with dignity and respect that they deserve."
Castor, who was the city's first female chief, cited O'Connor's experience working with social services as well as traditional policing in appointing her last month.
"Her vision is what Tampa needs right now," Castor said during a Feb. 7 news conference. "Mary has a keen understanding of the importance of collaborating with our community and combining social services support with enforcement to reduce crime and to keep our community safe."
Since retiring after 22 years with the department, O'Connor had served as a law enforcement trainer and consultant before her appointment.
O'Connor succeeds Brian Dugan, who retired in September.
WUSF staff writer Steve Newborn and editor Mark Schreiner contributed to this report.
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