After just two years on the job, Tampa's top cop is calling it quits.
Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward announced Thursday that he would be stepping down to take a job in the private sector.
“I found the job very rewarding,” Ward said of his 29 years at TPD.
He’s leaving to take a job as head of security for Coca-Cola Beverage of Florida, located in Tampa.
It’s an opportunity, said Ward, too good to pass up.
“It wasn't an easy decision, but I think it was the right decision,” said Chief Ward.
Ward was promoted to chief a little over two years ago, during a time of tension. TPD was being accused of racial profiling for writing a disproportionate number of citations to African-Americans riding their bicycles.
Critics also said the department’s hiring and recruitment numbers didn't reflect the community's ethnic diversity.
Chief Ward grew up in the Belmont Heights housing project of East Tampa. He joined the police force at the age of 21. When he was promoted to Chief of Police, people hoped his perspective would improve things.
“This is forever changing. But it was rough when he got his butt in there,” said neighbor Christine Griffin.
Unfortunately, say some who live in the same housing project, Ward wasn't Chief long enough, in their opinion, to make any real changes.
Terrance Williams pointed to the filled-in bullet holes outside his mother's apartment.
Crime, said Williams, is still bad. And the community's relationship with cops, he says, is still strained.
“I wish he would stay. To try to make an impact. You say you're from here. You say you're from this area. I mean, don't leave a soon as you get into office,” said Williams.
Ward said he believed the department had made progress under his short tenure as Chief.
“We went through a process, when there were perceived issues with what we were doing in our practices. And we addressed those issues,” said Chief Ward, “And, as a community, we build on that and moved forward.”
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says a national search for Ward's replacement will begin immediately and is likely to take about three to four months.
Assistant Chief Brian Dugan, who will lead the department in the interim, said he would be among the internal candidates applying for the job as well.
No word yet on what Chief Ward’s official final day will be. But the mayor says it will likely be sometime before the end of the month.
“It's a sad day for the city,” said Buckhorn, “But a great day for Chief Ward.”