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Jane Castor gives a former assistant a second chance as Tampa's new police chief

Mary O'Connor stands at a podium
City of Tampa
Mary O'Connor is introduced by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. On the right is Ruben "Butch" Delgado, who has served as interim chief. He will remain as assistant chief.

Mary O'Connor served the Tampa Police Department for 22 years and was assistant chief when she retired in 2016. In 1996, she was arrested for battery on a law enforcement officer.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has selected Mary O'Connor as the city's next police chief.

O'Connor served the Tampa Police Department for 22 years and was assistant chief when she retired in 2016.

Castor, who was the city's first female chief, said O'Connor's experience working with social services as well as traditional policing swayed her decision.

"Her vision is what Tampa needs right now," Castor said. "Mary has a keen understanding of the importance of collaborating with our community and combining social services support with enforcement to reduce crime and to keep our community safe."

During a news conference, O'Connor acknowledged a black mark on her record. In 1996, she was arrested on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer and disorderly intoxication after her future husband was stopped for drunken driving. O'Connor kicked the windows of a patrol car and punched a deputy.

Mary O'Connor
Tampa Police Department
Mary O'Connor

She pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of battery and obstruction. She was fired, then later reinstated.

"I believe in second chances wholeheartedly," O'Connor said. "But I also believe that discipline needs to be given in a fair and impartial manner. So I think that just like the chance that was given to me 28 years ago to evaluate every aspect of my own case, I look forward to doing that with the men and women of this department as well."

Castor praised her work combining social services with more traditional policing.

Castor said O'Connor has taught training to law enforcement and criminal justice executives. She’s also served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“While we had three very skilled candidates as finalists for the position of police chief, Mary stood out,” Castor said. “She brings to the table not just her innate knowledge of the Tampa Police Department, but her time spent with other police departments across the country. Mary understands where we may do things differently."

O’Connor worked with a Tampa Police Chaplain in running a post-trauma training and retreat program to help police officers cope with stress and strain in their jobs.

She also helped open an after-school program, The RICH House, (Resources in Community Hope), which served hundreds of children and helped connect adults with social services.

Ruben "Butch" Delgado, who has filled in as temporary chief after Chief Brian Dugan retired in September, will remain as assistant chief.

The Tampa city council will vote on O'Connor's confirmation on Thursday.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.