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Tampa mayor taps interim police chief to lead department

Interim Chief Lee Bercaw will still need to be officially confirmed.

TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has tapped a familiar face to lead the city's police department. 

Interim Chief Lee Bercaw, who has served with the Tampa Police Department for more than 25 years, was named as Castor's choice to be the city's top cop. Tampa city officials gathered Friday morning at police headquarters to make the announcement.

“Lee Bercaw has shown me day after day, as well as city council, as well as the union, as well as the men and women of the Tampa Police Department and in our community that we had the best candidate right here in the City of Tampa,” the mayor said.

His nomination awaits official confirmation from city council, but Castor said councilmembers have voiced their support of Bercaw. The confirmation vote could come as soon as June 15. 

Bercaw said he was humbled and ready to go on day one.

"For the last six months, I’ve been doing this job as interim and making decisions and making things happen for the better of the community and the organization," Bercaw said. “The only thing that’s gonna change is taking that word interim off.”

Bercaw has spent his entire 27-year career with TPD. His priorities center on community policing and continuing to take the department in what he calls a positive direction — not just reducing crime, but giving citizens the feeling that they are safe. 

“It is my goal to enhance our community policing and our neighborhood policing where every officer knows that community members, and every community member,  knows their officer. On that unique neighborhood approach,” he said.

The mayor said she was impressed with Bercaw and the job he had been doing as interim chief over the past six months. Castor also sought input from Council members, community leaders, and the police union before announcing her selection. 

Mayor Castor was widely criticized for her handling of the last police chief selection, pushing through her handpicked choice of Mary O'Connor, who resigned amid controversy in December.

Her resignation came after an internal affairs investigation into a 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," Castor said in a previous statement. 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.

Tampa City Council then voted unanimously on Dec. 15, 2022, to officially appoint Bercaw to the position of interim chief of police in Tampa. He has served that role ever since.

10 Tampa Bay's Andrea Chu contributed to this report. 

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