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Popular Tampa police major, and bloodhound Snoop, retire

TAMPA — Lillie Howard never gave pause at Maj. Sophie Teague's rank.

Though Teague, 50, had become one of Tampa police's highest ranking women, 79-year-old Howard continued to dial the major to report West Tampa crime, just as she had for more than a decade.

Teague said last week at a retirement ceremony attended by about 230 that those calls reminded her who was responsible for her paycheck: Ms. Howard and Tampa residents like her.

Teague, who retired Friday, joined the Tampa police in 1984 as a small-town South Carolina girl who loved horses and sported a mullet.

In recent years, the major and her bloodhound, Snoop, became Tampa icons, often spotted together at schools and police events. Children loved the sad-faced hound. The pair even had a trading card.

Teague was one of the agency's most popular commanders, known for her straight talk, country ways and ability to get things done in Tallahassee.

As major of "special support" the past several years, she was in charge of the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, her favorite Tampa event. The faux outlaws became her friends, and each year was like a reunion.

She was also in charge of the police department's helicopters, horses, motorcycles and other specialty teams, and she managed personnel, records and evidence.

For the 2012 Republican National Convention, she oversaw the budget and arranged hotels and food for the thousands of out-of-town law enforcement officers.

"It was 18 months of unbelievable stress and planning," she said.

The past several months, she noticed she was tired. She wanted to turn off her cellphone. She wanted to avoid hearing about every horrible crime. She wanted to spend her days on her 12-acre Tennessee farm.

That's where she is headed now. Teague plans to adopt a couple of wild mustangs and take along her two horses, goats, ducks, chickens, dogs, cats — and Snoop, who is also retiring after helping Tampa police for eight years.

Later, she will probably find another job. Fifty is too young to retire for good, she said.

"I don't know what I'm going to do next," she said at the standing room-only ceremony at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. "But I'm sure you do," Teague added, looking at her friend Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Teague is a T-shirt and jeans kind of woman. She scowls when she thinks about becoming a politician. But politicians know her well.

She gained a reputation among state legislators for being one to propose new laws and amendments. Her bills, based on problems she saw on the streets, often passed.

In 2005, she wrote an amendment that would close a loophole in the law about luring or enticing a child, making it an automatic misdemeanor charge. Previously, Florida law stated a suspect could be arrested only if he or she had already been convicted of a sex offense against a child.

Teague also wrote a bill that made it a crime to harass neighborhood watch members.

That one started with Ms. Howard.

Years ago, the Old West Tampa Neighborhood Association & Crimewatch member faced constant threats from drug dealers on her street. Criminals told Ms. Howard that if she did not stop calling police, they were going to poison her dog.

"It was just total harassment," Teague said.

The bill passed.

Teague is proud of those legacies she is leaving Florida, but they weren't the highlight of her career. Her best years, she said, were in the mid '90s as sergeant of the QUAD Squad, a street-level plainclothes narcotics unit.

She and her officers would go out and bust drug deals. Sometimes they would pose as dealers. Back then, the drug of choice was crack cocaine, she said.

Teague would sometimes take local leaders along with her. Then-Tampa City Council member Bob Buckhorn — now the mayor — rode along so often that when he didn't, Teague would ask whether he had called in sick.

Once, she took then-Mayor Dick Greco on a ride-along. When they were in Robles Park, a call came over her radio: "He has a gun!" Teague told the mayor she had to go back up her officer. She left Greco at a corner store, promising to be right back, she said. She forgot him.

At the crime scene, someone finally asked, "Didn't you have the mayor with you?" Rushing back, Teague thought she had lost her job.

But she found Greco happily chatting with a crowd of locals just where she had left him. And he had learned something.

At Teague's retirement ceremony, Greco admitted that he was skeptical years ago about women being police officers. He knew police often were involved in rough scenarios. "How in the world is some nice lady going to handle that?" he wondered.

No longer. Teague and other women in law enforcement proved him wrong, he said.

"You love this community," he said, "and this community loves you, Sophie."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Popular Tampa police major, and bloodhound Snoop, retire 09/01/13 [Last modified: Sunday, September 1, 2013 10:59pm]
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