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Mayor Buckhorn names Brian Dugan as Tampa’s new chief of police

By Tony Marrero
Brian Dugan said he was surprised when Mayor Bob Buckhorn offered him the job of Tampa police chief. A national search to find applicants for the position was underway but has been called off. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

TAMPA ó Calling it a "battlefield promotion," Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Tuesday took the "interim" from Police Chief Brian Duganís title.

Buckhorn called the 50-year-old department veteran and asked him a simple question.

"I said, ĎAre you ready to be the chief of police, because Iím ready to offer you the job.í I told him he had performed superbly over the last four months and Iím comfortable with my choice, so letís take this department to the next level."

The surprise move stopped cold a nationwide search that Buckhorn had started after Chief Eric Ward retired in July. But the mayor said Duganís performance during Hurricane Irma and more recently in the search for a suspect in three killings in Seminole Heights has shown the process isnít necessary.

"I was with him almost every day through the hurricane," Buckhorn said. "I saw the preparation, saw the execution, saw how the troops reacted to him and was impressed. And then the homicides in Southeast Seminole Heights ó that is where he sealed the deal for me. He did everything right, the rank-and-file respect him and the community feels the same way. I heard that from the comments from people in Seminole Heights."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Brian Dugan vies for chiefís post while trying to solve Seminole Heights killings

The decision marks an unexpected pinnacle in Duganís 27--year-career with the department. A year ago, the married father of two teenagers was home recovering from prostate cancer surgery and contemplating retirement. Then his health rebounded, and he returned to work after a roughly three-month leave.

Now, the Seminole Heights killings ó three shooting deaths over 11 days in October that police call random but related ó have drawn national attention, thrusting Dugan into the spotlight as the face of a department grappling with one of its biggest-ever cases. He said he hasnít been thinking about the search for a new chief and was surprised when Buckhorn offered the job to him Tuesday.

"What Iíve tried to do is just focus on the task at hand and really try to block all of that out," he said. "I didnít want it to become a distraction, but Iím extremely grateful for his decision and Iím grateful for the street cops and my family and friends."

Dugan started with the Tampa Police Department in 1990, patrolling downtown on the day shift then switching to the midnight shift within a year. Over the next two decades he steadily worked his way through the ranks.

As a sergeant, Dugan ran the street crimes unit, working in plain clothes to nab drug dealers and prostitutes. As a major, he oversaw the Criminal Investigation Division, where detectives worked to solve homicides and violent crimes.

Then-Chief Jane Castor later created two deputy chief positions for Dugan and Ward. Dugan oversaw Special Operations, Criminal Investigations and the Special Support Division and took primary responsibility for the departmentís budget, now at about $155 million. He kept the same duties when he was Wardís assistant chief.

In choosing Ward for chief, Buckhorn said he wouldnít do an outside search unless he thought the "culture was broken" in the department. But after Ward retired, Buckhorn said he expected the department could attract some of the best talent in the country and he had an obligation to at least survey the field. The city hired the Police Executive Research Forum to conduct the search.

Buckhorn said the city had already "slowed the search process down" so the department and city could focus on the Seminole Heights investigation.

"We called PERF today and said, ĎThank you, but at this point weíre comfortable with who we have,í" he said.

The city had a roughly $40,000 contact with PERF and will pay a prorated sum that will be "significantly" less, Buckhorn said.

The mayor said he talked to people throughout the department and concluded Dugan is a "copís cop."

"What do the people who work for you think about you? Are they willing to follow you into battle? Everyone I talked to, from the rookies to the senior folks respected and admired Brian and were looking forward to working for him."

Buckhorn said he has been impressed by Duganís efforts to engage with the community. One example, he said: Dugan invited Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown to spend the day at the departmentís Citizens Police Academy after seeing an image of Brown raising his fist during a pre-game national anthem to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice.

"I think that really told me he understood what modern day policing in this environment requires," Buckhorn said.

Dugan has said he doesnít expect to reinvent the Tampa Police Department. For now, the Seminole Heights murders is the main focus. Heíll be meeting with detectives and his command staff 9 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the case, as they have every day since the killings began.

"Weíre just going to keep moving forward," he said.

Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.