TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Police Chief Mary O'Connor has resigned from her position as top cop of the department after an internal affairs investigation into last month's golf cart traffic stop in which body camera video showed her displaying her credentials and saying, "I'm hoping that you'll just let us go tonight."
The Nov. 12 encounter in Pinellas County involving O'Connor's husband did not meet the level of "high standards for ethical and professional behavior that apply to every member of our police force," Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement Monday morning. O'Connor's husband was behind the wheel of the golf cart, which authorities say didn't have a license plate and was being driven outside a residential area.
According to the city, Castor made the request and received the resignation letter. O'Connor wrote, "I promised that I would serve the community I love to the best of my abilities, as I did for 22 years prior to retirement, and I feel that I've done just that."
Assistant Chief Lee Bercaw will serve as acting chief while a "comprehensive national search is conducted."
"Is your camera on?" O'Connor asked the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office deputy after he explained why he was conducting the traffic stop at a Truist bank in Oldsmar.
She immediately let the deputy know she was the police chief in Tampa before showing the deputy her credentials.
"I'm hoping that you'll just let us go tonight," she added. "If you ever need anything, call me," O'Connor said before the deputy dismissed the couple.
O'Connor was placed on administrative leave on Friday and an internal affairs investigation was launched. It was expected to take no longer than a week — and in a "final disposition letter" dated Sunday, Dec. 4, Bercaw said there were two department violations of "standard of conduct" and "abuse of position or identification."
Castor, who picked O'Connor to serve as the city's 43rd chief of police in March, said in accepting her chief's resignation, "It is unacceptable for any public employee, and especially the city's top law enforcement leader, to ask for special treatment because of their position."
O'Connor requested to receive the same discipline any police officer would in this situation.
In a previous statement, O'Connor alluded to taking ownership of "past mistakes." One such instance she was referring to likely relates to her 1995 arrest, which drew controversy when she was appointed as chief. She apologized for her actions while Tampa city council members considered a vote to confirm her earlier this year.
Castor said this case is "especially disappointing" given that O'Connor was given a second chance. The mayor's full statement follows:
"The Tampa Police Department has a code of conduct that includes high standards for ethical and professional behavior that apply to every member of our police force. As the Chief of Police, you are not only to abide by and enforce those standards but to also lead by example. That clearly did not happen in this case.
"It is unacceptable for any public employee, and especially the city's top law enforcement leader, to ask for special treatment because of their position. Public trust in Tampa's police department is paramount to our success as a city and community.
"This is especially disappointing because I gave Mary O’Connor a second chance, as I believe in second chances for people. Which is one of the reasons that the disappointment today runs so deep. I had high hope for Chief O’Connor, as she was off to such a strong start by reducing violent gun crime, proactively engaging with our community and focusing on officer wellness. But these accomplishments pale in comparison to the priority I place on integrity.
"In Lee Bercaw, we have a thoughtful and highly regarded leader in progressive policing. I am grateful he can hit the ground running and continue working with our community to keep our city safe.”
The mayor's office said there is no firm deadline for selecting the next chief but "fully expects that a national search and hiring process will take several months."
Bercaw, the city of Tampa says, has worked in every neighborhood and has been a "key force in developing proactive crime reduction strategies." He holds a doctorate in criminal justice from St. Leo University, as well as a Master of Arts in criminal justice administration and a Bachelor of Science in criminology from the University of South Florida.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said his deputy, Larry Jacoby, did nothing wrong — while she asked for a favor, Jacoby didn't provide it. He stands by him "110 percent."
"Who cares?" said Gualtieri, throwing up his hands while mentioning that the "crime" of driving a golf cart without a license tag wasn't relatively significant. "The outcome wouldn't have been any different if she would have just kept her mouth shut — is unless there were aggravating circumstances or extenuating circumstances is that's a warning all day long."