Tampa City Council confirms Mary O'Connor as police chief, after outcry about the selection process

Mary O'Connor has served as TPD police chief since Feb. 8, and was confirmed by council today.

click to enlarge Mary O'Connor speaks to city council during the confirmation hearing. - City of Tampa/CCTV
City of Tampa/CCTV
Mary O'Connor speaks to city council during the confirmation hearing.
Tampa City Council confirmed Mary O'Connor as police chief today in a 4-2 vote, following 37 days of controversy surrounding her appointment by Mayor Jane Castor.

Orlando Gudes and Bill Carlson voted no, both citing the flawed selection process led by Castor's administration.

"I wish you well," Councilchair Orlando Gudes said. "But all I can say is I was candid with you yesterday [during a meeting] and that's all I can be....We feel disrespected by this whole process."

O'Connor outlined her intentions as police chief to council.

"I deeply care about the city and the people that call it home," O'Connor said to council during the meeting. "And the past five weeks have helped me strengthen existing relationships with those very members of this city that call it home."

O'Connor told council that she has four goals as police chief: Work side-by-side with community members, a safety and wellness program for officers, reduce violent crime and creating a strong quality-assurance platform to ensure that all the community is treated with dignity and respect.

The decision from council comes after community outcry surrounding O'Connor's appointment by the mayor, especially the lack of transparency in her selection.
O'Connor's appointment by Castor was also controversial due to her past felony arrest for assault on a fellow law enforcement officer. She and Castor were also among officers who oversaw the controversial policing program "Biking while Black," and O'Connor was a high ranking officer at TPD during a crime-free multi housing program, which disproportionately evicted Black renters.

Councilmen and members of the Latino community pointed out the lack of Latino leadership under Mayor Castor. They said Ruben "Butch" Delgado, who served as interim chief, was an obvious choice for police chief.

These issues and more were brought up by several speakers during public comment during the meeting, who landed on both sides of the issue.

People from both sides of the argument—and all city council members— acknowledged that Mayor Castor's police chief search process was the major problem, and contributed to the controversy around her selection.

"There's the process and the response that we've seen from members of the community, right, some of whom began with some more caustic responses that have kind of come to the middle, were speaking to a process that was, I believe, mishandled," said councilman Luis Viera.
The councilmen did not have the chance to meet with O'Connor until after Castor announced her as police chief on Feb. 8. At that press conference, Castor said that O'Connor could start "as early as next week," pending council approval. But 10 days later, John Bennett, Castor's Chief of Staff, told council that O'Connor had actually started the job on the day of the press conference, to council's surprise.

"Mayor Castor's commitment to a national search and due diligence leading to Mary's appointment is followed by the prescribed process of presenting Mary to council for confirmation," said Bennett. "Mary was vetted by over 100 years of combined law enforcement experience, and introduced and reintroduced to hundreds of community members, leading to today."

About O'Connor's arrest history, one Black Tampa resident named Melvin Hicks said, "Shit, if I assaulted a Hillsborough County deputy, I'd be locked up right now."

Brett Bartlett, retired officer, said that O'Connor helped him through issues he had on the force.

"As an officer, I had what you call a splotchy disciplinary history," Bartlett said. "And I had some rough times. I was fortunate in that my leadership recognized my ability to continue to serve and maybe do a good job and I've benefited from that. So I'm a big believer in second chances."

One of the speakers in favor of O'Connor and Mayor Castor was shuttled by TPD to city hall last year to speak in favor of the city's controversial crime free multi-housing program, CL found.

Several speakers pointed out a double standard in O'Connor holding the position of police chief, including councilman Guido Maniscalco, who said the city wouldn't let him hire a legislative aide who had a DUI arrest on their record in the past.

In early March, councilmen alleged that Mayor Castor's staff was behind a pressure campaign to get Mary O'Connor elected. CL was initially only able to obtain two emails from influential people writing to council to support O'Connor, one of which had ties to Mayor Castor. Yesterday, CL received more emails through a public records request. Several of the emails used repetitive language, and two of the emails were word-for-word copies of each other.
In a press release about the selection of O'Connor, the City of Tampa said that she helped police departments develop strategic plans for reducing crime by focusing on community engagement, and evidence-based policing.

She is a senior faculty member of the FBI’s premier leadership training program that helps develop police officers into leaders who understand the importance of diversity, collaboration, social equity, and trust-building, the city said. Mary also created an after-school program in a disadvantaged neighborhood and was also instrumental in the development of technology that improved officer and community safety.

Councilman Bill Carlson said he supported O'Connor because of her qualifications, but was upset at the actions of Castor's administration, which is why he voted no.

"It's about protecting democracy in this city," Carlson said. "The process was not transparent. It was disrespectful not just to council, but it was disrespectful to the public."

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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