Six weeks after being announced as Mayor Jane Castor’s pick to lead the Tampa Police Department, Mary O’Connor was sworn in as Police Chief at a ceremony Friday morning.
During the ceremony, O’Connor promised to focus on identifying root causes of criminal behavior. She said her department will work with social service organizations to address those issues.
“We will achieve the goals of crime reduction, community engagement and wellness for all through a high level of accountability, togetherness and hard work,” O’Connor said. “I care deeply about this city and all of you that call it home. Law enforcement, for me, was always a calling rather than a profession or a job. I was called to serve this community 27 years ago and I’m not done serving yet.”
O’Connor first joined the Tampa Police Department (TPD) in the mid-’90s after serving two years as an officer in Madeira Beach. But her young career almost came to a quick and unceremonious end. In her first year with TPD, O’Connor was arrested and charged with battery on a law enforcement officer during a DUI traffic stop where she was not the driver. Her future husband, another TPD officer at the time, was driving. Adjudication of her guilt in the felony charge was withheld so long as she wrote a letter of apology.
Both O’Connor and her future husband were fired, later hired back, and rose to the highest ranks of the department. O’Connor retired as an assistant chief in 2016. She spent the last five years working as a consultant and trainer, traveling to law enforcement agencies around the country. She’s also a senior faculty member at the FBI’s premier leadership officer development program.
O’Connor’s arrest and selection process brought up controversy for the city. Council members felt slighted that they weren’t included in the process and didn’t know O’Connor was to be selected until the decision was made. She was confirmed by the City Council last week in a split vote.
“I would ask the administration to start over,” Council member Bill Carlson said during the confirmation. “Be respectful of the public. Be respectful to the City Council. Let’s be respectful of the balance of powers in this community. And let’s be respectful of democracy in this country.”
Members of the community expressed concern over the message hiring a Police Chief with a felony arrest sends to the city’s Black community. Tampa has a history of over-policing Black neighborhoods through the “biking while Black” program and the city’s crime-free housing initiative.
Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough NAACP, said O’Connor was a leader in the department when some of those wounds were opened.
“She stated that she treated everybody with dignity and respect, but yet African Americans in this community were targeted with ticketing and arrest for riding a bike under Mary O’Connor’s leadership,” she said. “The wounds are still there. The wounds are still present.”
But Castor stood by O’Connor as she waded through the controversy. O’Connor even embarked on a public engagement tour to win community support ahead of her Council confirmation. After she was rehired, O’Connor had a spotless and exemplary career. Castor said she never doubted that she made the right pick.
“The continued success of the Tampa Police Department is predicated on a strong leader and Mary O’Connor is that strong leader who will successfully guide the Tampa Police Department into the future and keep our community safe. “
O’Connor has been performing the duties of Chief since her selection was announced in February.