Tampa Police Chief Dugan has lost the public's trust, and it's his own damn fault

Over the past week, Dugan's department doxxed a woman to combat a “false narrative,” and has been woefully blind to its own toxicity.

Photo via Tampa Police Department/Facebook

Yesterday, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan stood in front of reporters and vented. He said he’s at a loss of what to do with a beleaguered department that has witnessed near daily Black Lives Matter protests over the past month.

"The police, we always have everybody’s back and nobody has our back,” said Dugan, a public servant whose salary is made possible by taxpayers. “Right now the officers feel like they can’t win. And I would have to agree with them.”

The fact that he whole-heartedly thinks there's a "winner," at the end of all this, speaks volumes. But a>s Dugan stood alone at the podium, dressed in a button-down shirt rather than a traditional uniform, the moment felt like a stark shift in his career.

His comments came after he defended an officer that held a gun on a Black woman in Tampa last Thursday during a felony traffic stop, a situation that has since exploded on social media.

In the video, 23-year-old Joneshia Wilkerson is seen filming a Tampa Police officer as he points his gun in her direction while she waits in her friend’s car, which was reported stolen. In the clip, Wilkerson and her passenger can be heard repeatedly asking the officer why a gun is pointed in their direction, and reiterating that they’re not armed.

“The last thing I need is a gun pointed to my head,” she says. 

As the Tampa Bay Times reported, it was ultimately discovered that the car was a rental with a string of late payments and was reported stolen to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. While Wilkerson and her passenger were briefly detained by TPD, they were also not charged with any crime.  

The video now has nearly 100,000 views, and made such an immediate impact it prompted TPD to release body-cam footage of the incident and post it to YouTube arguing it countered Wilkerson’s “false narrative.” The department stated in a press release that a gun was never directly pointed at Wilkerson’s head, like she claimed, and that the officer was “calmly explaining each step to the occupants.”

“How would you like to be a police officer that arrests somebody, that could end up spurring more riots in the city just by doing your job?” Dugan asked at yesterday’s press conference. “Whether you are right or wrong, it doesn’t matter right now. No one is listening and any justified action is getting twisted.”

Citizens have a right to film the police; Dugan admitted as much. But what the police chief didn’t mention at the press conference is that Wilkerson had every reason to film that officer, and perhaps if she didn’t, this would be a much darker story.

But rather than simply adding clarity to her video, his department decided to respond by posting in her Instagram mentions that she’s in fact wrong, and then revealing all of her personal information, including her address, phone number and date of birth.

Wilkerson, who currently serves in the Army Reserve, says she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which this incident only compounded. She also said that since the department released her personal info, she's received harassing phone calls, including being called the N-word, and is now living in a hotel because she doesn’t feel safe at home. 

“Why can’t you all just leave me alone!” said Wilkerson in an Instagram post. “You could’ve muted my personal information!” 

In an email exchange with Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, Tampa Police Public Information Officer Jamel Lanee defended the department’s decision to doxx Wilkerson by stating that her information is public record.

“We responded with information that was public record,” wrote Lanee. “In our efforts to ensure we’re a transparent agency, we released all public information in an effort to combat the false narrative of police brutality being presented on social media.” 

But when asked if it was appropriate, given the political climate, to possibly put Wilkerson in danger, Lanee replied, “If Wilkerson feels endangered, she can contact authorities.” 

Obviously, the next question here is which authorities should Wilkerson call, exactly? 

To recap: Wilkerson had a gun pointed at her. No charges were filed, and then she was doxxed by an agency bent on fighting a “false narrative.” So, again, who should she call after all trust has eroded? 

It's also telling that the TPD felt it was necessary to release the personal information of a private citizen and not the officer involved. If you're wondering, the officer's name is Derek Nadeau, but we only know this because after repeated requests for the officer's name, it was eventually released. Lanee explained that the officer's name wasn't initially made public because, "no one asked." (Notice we mention the officer's name, but not his address, phone number and date of birth.)

Coincidently, Dugan did mention in Monday’s press conference that he would still help the “hypocrites” that don’t like him, and emphasized that if they called his police force, they would still do their jobs. 

“We always have everyone’s back. No one has ours right now,” said Dugan. “Every one one of these people that’s out there protesting, that are against police brutality, that are against the police, when they call 911 tonight, we’ll come and help them. Some of these people are just hypocrites and they're out there just saying things.” 

It’s incredibly odd that any police chief should feel the need to say that he’ll help people he doesn't like. It’s also baffling that the police chief wants credit for something that he’s paid to do by taxpayers, and more importantly that he swore an oath to uphold.  

Not only that, but Dugan also wants his supporters to now come out of the woodwork and defend his job. During the conference Dugan, who also uttered the phrase "law and order," called on the “good people,” which are presumably those who held a “Back the Blue” rally last week, to start complaining about protesters.

“I want the good people who support the police to start stepping up,” he said. “If you are sitting in traffic and it’s being blocked, you need to step up and complain.”

If Dugan’s strategy to deal with protesters, who are quite literally calling for better policing practices, is to call for insurgent protesters and false complaints, then all hope for reform is lost, and this might already be the case.

Despite Dugan’s words, his actions show a complete resistance to change.  

Last week, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor held a press conference on local police reform, announcing a new task force, an updated excessive force policy, and news that investigations into officer-involved shootings will now be led by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, rather than internally. 

"I believe good can come from these difficult times that we are in right now. I believe we can move forward toward a new level of connection and partnership with our community members," said Castor. "The first step is listening and hearing the community concerns, and then, affecting real change."

One person who was notably absent from this press conference was Dugan, which is strange because you’d think a major announcement about local police reform would’ve at least had the police chief present. Lanee told CL that Dugan had another commitment and could not attend the press conference.

Of course, Dugan’s absence from the meeting is largely symbolic, because he clearly can’t even pretend to listen or smile and nod for the cameras. 

Last week’s incident involving Wilkerson had at least two points that are worth looking at when it comes to police reform—perhaps preemptively drawing a weapon for a traffic stop isn’t always the best idea, and maybe TPD should revisit its social media policies. 

Over the past year, the Tampa Police Department has had numerous social media gaffs, and since the protests emerged after the death of George Floyd, the agency has used its platforms as another weapon in its arsenal. When asked if there were any recent changes to the department’s social media protocols, Lanee said "no," adding, “We have always responded when necessary to social media posts and immediately to posts that are false.” 

At CL, we know this fact all too well. Besides posting a Donald Trump campaign video from the official TPD Twitter account, the department also dropped into our Facebook comment section last month after we reported on officers using pepper-spray on protesters, specifically a 17-year-old girl with an umbrella.

Rather than replying to our multiple attempts to reach a rep for Mayor Castor via email, the department suggested in our comments that we change our headline to “Criminals attacking officers” with the hashtag #TellTheFullStory.

Ironically, that incredibly laughable hashtag has now become a rallying cry for protesters, who claim the department continues to use chemical weapons and rubber bullets at local protests. 

Not to mention the department’s habitual use of the “Thin Blue Line” flag, which not only represents police solidarity, but also a history drenched in white supremacy. At best, the flag embodies a non-communal mentality of “us versus them.”  Sixty miles away from Tampa, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Capt. Ryan Brown told his deputies that they're no longer allowed to wear the "thin blue line" logo while on duty (Brown cited "uniformity" but did acknowledge that law enforcement is in "unique times" right now.)

In arguably his most on-brand moment of the year, Dugan ended his speech on Tuesday by staring into the camera and saying, “When the boogeyman comes knocking, we’ll show up. They won’t.” 

The moment was presumably meant to show his commitment to the job, and that despite the critics, he’s still worthy of the public's trust. But his words felt exceedingly hollow. His total inability to even recognize a problem only paints himself as a “boogeyman” and reinforces what protesters having been saying all along: If Dugan can’t accept reform, then he needs to resign.

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About The Author

Colin Wolf

Colin Wolf has been working with weekly newspapers since 2007 and has been the Digital Editor for Creative Loafing Tampa since 2019. He is also the Director of Digital Content Strategy for CL's parent company, Euclid Media Group.
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