Best Of 2012

"It’s not just a matter of allowing the free speech, you actually have to protect it" —Asst. Chief Bennett, w. Chief Castor.
Photo by Todd Bates
"It’s not just a matter of allowing the free speech, you actually have to protect it" —Asst. Chief Bennett, w. Chief Castor.

Jane Castor and John Bennett were appointed Chief of Police and Assistant Chief of Operations in 2009. Castor is in her 29th year with TPD, Bennett in his 27th. Before their appointments to the top spots, they already knew each other well.

"Post 9/11," says Bennett, "the Chief was over at the Intelligence Unit, and she would give me some guidance about trying to gin it up at the local level. She allowed me to set up a unit that worked closely with Homeland Security and Event Management, and then I went to work for the Chief when she became Assistant Chief of Patrol and took that whole other experience into crime-fighting."

Looking back on the RNC, Castor says she's relieved it's over, but proud.

"To have the lack of arrests is quite an accomplishment," she says. "To have that many officers — 3,500 from a number of agencies throughout the state — come together and work for four days and [get] absolutely nothing but praise and compliments for the level of professionalism, courteousness, and helpfulness, I think that is what makes me the most proud… the fact that the officers came together and showed that we have the best law enforcement in the nation in the state of Florida."

Bennett looks back with particular pride on the training regimen that prepared officers for the event.

"My counterpart, Colonel Duncan [with Hillsborough County], traveled to all the different sheriff agencies and spoke about the way we police in Tampa and Hillsborough County to make sure that everybody coming here understood that they’d have to be open to how we do our mission," Bennett says. "It really came home to me when the Chief and the Mayor [were] doing the town hall meetings and when [they] collectively said this event will be successful if it’s not a security event.

"The Executive Steering Committee… led by the Chief and the Sheriff, talked immensely about the idea that our boundary was… the criminal level of destroying property or hurting others," Bennett continues. "Other than that we’re here to protect the political process. It’s not just a matter of allowing the free speech, you actually have to protect it, and we wrote that in our mission statement and we wrote that in our training curriculum purposefully to make sure that we knew where that boundary was, and we had the support and the latitude from the Chief and the Mayor to operate in a way to give that flexibility… The Chief reminds us that discretion is our biggest tool in our toolbox and she allowed us to use that, as well as the sheriff, and that’s what really gave us the ability to do what we did."

Castor says TPD's approach was unique from past conventions in that "we met with the groups and tried to figure out what their goal was: What do you want to accomplish? And then if it was at all possible, we allowed them to accomplish their goal and that worked. In the past I think it was more of a confrontation between demonstrators and law enforcement, and what we showed was that’s not necessary. Everyone can achieve their goals and accomplish what they set forward to do as long as it doesn’t cross over into criminal activity, and that's what we clearly communicated with all demonstrators and it worked very well for us.

"We put a great deal into training the officers, we had to have them tactically sound if there was any civil disorder, but on the other hand, we wanted them to be open to the demonstrations and do anything they could to facilitate that political process. We had a portion of that training that said, 'Don’t be that guy' and showed the officers some of the past techniques and actions that had caused confrontation and resulted in a very negative image of law enforcement."

The Chief and Assistant Chief spent a lot of time together during the RNC.

"Probably more than he wanted," jokes Castor. "We pretty much spent four days together." But the feedback was worth it. "We got positive feedback from everyone — from our residents, delegates, protesters, very well-received."

She won't say TPD did any better or worse than police departments have done in past conventions, but she's willing to share what her department learned. "I wouldn’t pass judgment on any [other] law enforcement agency, because we didn’t have the numbers of demonstrators that may or may not have allowed our process to be as effective as it was. So it worked for us and we certainly would support any other agency that wanted to learn from what we did."

The relatively small size of the TPD, and the fact they had to bring in outside officers, may have worked to the department's advantage, says Bennett.

"One of our biggest challenges was we had a myriad of agencies. We used to say we were a bit of an underdog in this situation because we had to outsource a  lot of support, whereas in NY and Chicago it was all internal. But maybe the benefit to us in that equation was that we really had to get out of the box in training and front-load our philosophies, where it may be assumed in larger agencies. So in a way it was an accidental positive for us."

People & Politics

Best Anti-James Franco Rant

Metal man artist Frank Strunk posted a photo of a shirtless James Franco in the upcoming film Spring Breakers back in April, along with this rant. The photo got close to 100 responses on Strunk’s Facebook in a matter of minutes: “So this is how our town is being depicted by the movie industry. We work so hard to have what we have here and douchebag filmmakers come down and find the single worst element of our city and represent us with it. Tell me exactly WHY we should be welcoming to these assholes. Nice “727” tattoo dickhead. I don’t care how much “money” they bring to this area, if they are doing it at the expense of our hard work and reputation, they can stay the FUCK where they came from.”

Charlie Justice
Charlie Justice

Two years ago Charlie Justice held the state Senate seat that encompassed both Tampa and St. Pete. He left it to run for Bill Young’s congressional seat and lost. This year, the Democrats failed to field a candidate in the race.

Best attempt to clean up a racist quote from a sports talk show host

After Sileo called three black football players “monkeys” in a passing reference, WDAE 620 announced that they “would like to apologize for Dan Sileo’s ill-chosen on-air remarks earlier this week. He absolutely meant no disrespect to the players and he is sincerely embarrassed and upset that his off-the-cuff remarks might be taken as hateful, disrespectful, or in any way racist. Dan and the station regret any offense to the players; to the Bucs organization; and to the people of the Tampa Bay community.” Shortly thereafter, WDAE canned him.

Kevin Beckner
Kevin Beckner

In one of the most ethically and socially diverse areas in the country, five of the seven Hillsborough County Commissioners are white men. So when they voted to support a Diversity Advisory Council (proposed by the sole gay commissioner, Kevin Beckner, and slated to include a representative from the gay community), some local columnists cheered the new perspective on the board. But wait — isn’t this the same local government that refuses to include the LGBT community in its human rights ordinance, and has a ban on gay pride? “The goal isn’t to promote a GLBT agenda,” said Commission Chair Ken Hagan, who supported the gay pride ban. “This wouldn’t use taxpayer dollars to support gay-pride events. This action does not conflict with that.” Whew. Thank God for that!

Magic Mike
Magic Mike

Who would have guessed that a movie about male strippers would be the best Bay area recruitment film ever made? Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, starring Channing Tatum as a Tampa-based exotic dancer with dreams of hitting the big time in Miami, makes the Bay area look like a tropical paradise chock full of beautiful bodies and scenery. Get past the soft R-rated content (sorry folks, no dongs), and what’s left is a beautiful travelogue of Tampa and St. Pete, complete with glistening beaches and the hip urban cores of Ybor City and downtown St. Pete. Magic Mike will hit DVD right as the weather turns to slush up north, and in addition to inspiring daydreams about abs and ass, the film will surely draw a few new transplants looking for fun in the sun. (Clothing optional, of course.)

Best Beach

Runners-up: St. Pete Beach, Ft. Desoto Beach

Whoa, easy there, baseball fans. Sure, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon might get the boys into the playoff picture, but do you think it will amount to anything more than an early exit, like the last two seasons? Well, we can dream. Bucs fans? I'd sure like to see coach Greg Schiano’s crew bring playoff pigskin back to the Bay. I'm just not sure the former Rutgers top dog (don’t get me started) has had enough time to get his house in order. Leaving us the Bolts, under Guy Boucher, who has captain Vinny Lecavalier supported by alternates Steven Stamkos ("best goal scorer in the world," according to Barry Melrose), Marty St. Louis, Mattias Ohlund and Eric Brewer. There's your winner.

Best Bill Hicks Comeback

For five and a half years, activist group St. Pete for Peace showed cutting-edge documentaries for free at Cafe Bohemia. The weekly series was cut short after the new owners of the café found themselves shocked and awed by American: The Bill Hicks Story, the animated documentary about the comedian’s life and early death. The film, and Bill Hicks’ potty mouth (or words of wisdom, depending on your taste), got the film series canned (temporarily) until it found a new home at the L Train.