Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced this afternoon that Eric Ward will become the new Police Chief for the city of Tampa, effective as of next week. Ward replaces Jane Castor, who retires next week after 31 years on the force, the last five and a half as chief of police.
Ward becomes the second black chief in the city’s history (Bennie Holder was the first, serving from 1993-2003). He currently serves as the assistant chief of operations, and was announced months ago as one of the three finalists for the job. The other two were Mary O’Connor and Brian Dugan, both of whom were given promotions today as well; O’Connor was named assistant chief of operations, while Dugan is now assistant chief of special support & investigations.
The 48-year-old Ward has had a meteoric rise in recent years. He helped engineer security around the Republican National Convention three years ago, and was promoted to deputy chief a year. Last fall he was promoted to assistant chief, taking the place of John Bennett, who retired in January.
In his public comments, Ward said he had three areas that he wanted to emphasize. One was to have more outreach programs, specifically more R.I.C.H. (Resources in Community Hope) houses, as well as develop Police Athletic League programs.
A R.I.C.H. house offers area kids tutoring, homework assistance, summer camp and holiday parties, and a food pantry for needy families.
His second goal was to continue to fight against violence — he says he wants to put together task forces in each district to get to the “root of the issue.”
And lastly, he wants to retrain officers. He said that element has been missing in the TPD since the recession hit, but something he wants to revive.
When asked by a reporter if he believes that black bicyclists have been targeted unfairly (as was inferred by a Tampa Bay Times story that showed that 79 percent of bike citations have been written against blacks), he said “absolutely not. If there are concerns, we listen to our community. Community input is very important to us.”
The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services inside the Justice Department today announced it will offer Critical Response for Technical Assistance to the TPD to do a comprehensive analysis of their stop and ticketing data, including bicycle law enforcement. The goal is to identify whether racial disparities exist in the department’s stops and the issuance of tickets, determine the reason behind any disparities, and provide recommendations to address such.
“It’s something that we welcome,” Ward said, adding, “We don’t think our practices are bad.”
Activists want him to take a time-out on the bike citations, but he didn’t sound like he’s keen on that.
“We don’t see any issues with our current process, and basically we’re enforcing our violations throughout the city,” he said.”We’ll wait on the evaluation. If they find any discrepancies, we’lll act on that immediately.”
Ward said he welcomes the use of body cameras, but says it’s quite expensive. “We have 1,000 officers in our agency, so we need to take it slow.” The department currently is in the process of a year-long evaluation.
Ward is an East Tampa native. He graduated from Hillsborough High School, and holds a criminal justice degree from St. Leo University. He is married with two children and lives in West Tampa.