Mary O'Connor approved by Tampa City Council as chief of police

The majority of the Tampa city council approved the mayor's nominee for the next police chief.

Two out of six city council members voted "no." Recently-appointed Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor appeared before City Council today for what was expected to be a heated confirmation hearing.

O’Connor was appointed Chief of Police last month by mayor and former TPD Chief Jane Castor. The two worked together at TPD for more than a decade. Since her appointment, controversy has built up among city councilors and the public leading up to today’s vote, which will take place during a regularly-scheduled council meeting.

Councilors predicted correctly that public comment on O’Connor’s appointment could last several hours based on the number of emails and calls they’ve fielded over the last month and a half. More than 50 people attended to have their say, speaking for and against O'Connor.

Public comment wrapped up with O'Connor herself.

"Today, it's a great honor for me to come before you. I have been nominated to be the next police chief and I would be humbled if given this opportunity for your support and your confirmation. For me, law enforcement was a calling. Not a job or a profession, and 28 years ago I was called to the city of Tampa to serve the citizens," she said. "I am not yet done serving. I deeply care about this city, the people that call it home and the past five weeks helped me strengthen existing relationships with those very members of this city that call it home. I have been fortunate to build new relationships along the way."

Mary O'Connor speaks during the public comment portion of her confirmation hearing at Tampa City Council on March 17, 2022. She was later confirmed as the new police chief.

O'Connor said as a police chief, she would have four priorities:

  • Work side-by-side with community members
  • Ensure that officers have a "very robust safety and wellness program available to them"
  • Reduce violent crime – and all crime
  • Have a strong quality assurance to make sure everyone in city is treated with "dignity and respect"

Before voting, councilors were mainly criticizing the selection process. They, along with some of their constituents, have said it lacked transparency.

Castor’s administration has also been accused of moving forward without council’s approval.

"I have a problem with the candidate being designated as the Chief of Police of the city of Tampa without being confirmed by the City Council. I have no problem with the candidate going out and talking to citizens, but I do have a problem with the person signing documents as the Chief of Police before this council has had a chance to confirm that person. I think that’s wrong," councilman Orlando Gudes said at a meeting earlier the month.

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Others have accused the mayor of strong-arming councilors into accepting her pick.

"There is a legal process. The way this has been handled all along has not been respectful of city council," said councilor Bill Carlson. "I don’t think anybody dislikes the candidate but why does the administration have to disrespect city council and the public through this process?"

Councilors say they’ve heard lengthy criticism from community members who disagree with O’Connor being chosen over interim chief Ruben Delgado, who has deep ties to West Tampa’s Hispanic community.

O’Connor’s past has also been called into question. In 1995, she was fired from the department after she was charged with punching a Hillsborough County Deputy during a DUI stop that involved her eventual husband.

"You look at people who are incarcerated on that charge, and don't get a second chance on that kind of charge. I do believe in second chances. We need to hear what Ms. O'Connor has to say in front of the whole body of the council," said Gudes.

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O’Connor was rehired as a TPD officer one year after her dismissal and proceeded to rise through the ranks to Assistant Chief before retiring in 2016.

In February, O’Connor told FOX 13 she’d focus on meeting with community members and councilors to earn their approval.

"I hope that they can take the time to see that my intention is to serve, and not for any other motive than to come back, serve the department well, serve the city well, and know I am committed to the cause," O’Connor said.

She needed the approval of at least four councilors in order to be confirmed. Six city council members remained following the resignation of John Dingfelder earlier this week.

After she was confirmed, O'Connor told the council:

"Thank you. I won't let you down."