Tampa Police chief leaves Safe Places for victims of hate crimes, bullying as he announces his retirement

By : Rachel Dececco
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TAMPA – Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward announced his retirement from the Tampa Police Department in a press conference with Mayor Bob Buckhorn July 6.

Ward has served 29 years with the TPD, the last two years as its police chief. Ward was appointed to replace former Police Chief Jane Castor in 2015. Castor was Tampa’s first female and openly gay police chief.

Ward said in the televised press conference that making this decision was not easy but that he knew he was “leaving the department in excellent shape and in good hands.”

Buckhorn said he will be conducting a national search for Tampa’s new police chief and will be looking for someone who can demonstrate leadership in a diverse and progressive city like Tampa.

Buckhorn appointed Assistant Chief Brian Dugan to serve as interim police chief. Dugan said he will be applying to be placed in the position permanently.

Throughout his time with the TPD, Ward has been described as a quiet, shy person who has a passion for the law and the community of Tampa.

He has a more than extensive resume working for the TPD; serving in his 29 years as the Specialty Teams Commander and working through nearly every department including K-9, Mounted Patrol, Traffic, Air Service, Marine Patrol, Dive Team, SWAT, Hostage Negotiation Team, Bomb Team, Honor Guard and the Special Incident Management Unit.

Ward has also been extremely involved in Tampa’s LGBTQ community. He helped to plan Tampa Pride during his two years as police chief, was visible at many of the vigils and tributes held throughout Tampa after the Pulse nightclub tragedy in Orlando and made one of his main goals as chief to focus on the often forgotten youth within the community.

“It’s sad that we are losing a great asset to the community and to the LGBTA community here in Tampa,” said Tampa Pride Executive Director Carrie West in an email to Watermark. “Police Chief Ward always had an open door to the Tampa gay community and he stepped up with honor at most any occasion.”

One of the most recent resources initiated under Ward’s tenure is the development of the TPD Safe Place program. They announced the program June 12, coinciding with the one year mark of the Pulse tragedy.

Through the Safe Place Initiative, TPD will provide decals to city facilities, schools, local businesses and other organizations for those entities to post as a symbol of safety for the victims of hate crimes, according to the City of Tampa website.

The website goes on to say, “The City of Tampa and the Tampa Police Department are committed to the safety of all residents and visitors regardless of race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, age or disability. As such, we are committed to tackling crimes that target specific demographics that are at a higher risk to be victimized.”

The TPD Safe Place Initiative looks to provide the community with easily accessible safety information and safe places throughout the city they can turn to if they are the victims of crime.

The first wave of participating businesses have received their decals, a sticker with the words SAFE PLACE written inside a rainbow-colored shield. Decals must be made visible on the business’ front door and/or window. Participating business owners are also receiving some specialty training from the TPD on how to defuse and handle a potential threatening situation.

“Our police force and the community we serve reflect a city that values diversity and inclusion,” Ward said according to TBReporter.com.”The TPD Safe Place program reaffirms the commitment we have to keeping every individual in Tampa safe. With the help of our business community, we are sending a unified message that crimes motivated by prejudice and hate will not be tolerated in our city.”

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