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Tampa Police assistant chief surprised by promotion but ready to shoulder responsibility

TAMPA — The Tampa Police Department's top brass have known each other for decades. Many are friends, so they know each other's business.

But when Chief Jane Castor called Maj. John Newman into her office one morning last month, he was shocked by her request:

Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin would be moving down to the position of captain for personal reasons. Would he, Newman, be assistant chief?

He said "yes."

Even though stepping into the No. 2 position at the agency wasn't a goal of his, Newman, 51, says he didn't consider declining Castor's offer — even with the added weight of the Republican National Convention.

In his new role, which he assumed April 30, he has more RNC planning duties and, along with Assistant Chief John Bennett, is one of the faces of the agency's security efforts.

"I could have very well said, 'Thank you, but no thank you,' but that's not what we do at TPD," he said. "Nobody hides from responsibility."

Though Hamlin described his reason for stepping down to the rank of captain in an internal meeting attended by the agency's highest-ranking employees, many still don't know what his "personal reasons" are. Hamlin has declined to speak publicly about his decision, other than to say it was made in the best interest of his family.

Newman had to keep the news quiet for a couple hours, until Castor could compose an email to send to every officer. He couldn't even call his wife of 25 years, Dawn.

"Telling her is like telling CNN," he said, laughing.

Newman joined the agency 26 years ago, shortly after graduating from the University of South Florida. He wanted to major in music (he played the trumpet), but his dad quashed that idea. Instead, Newman studied criminology and brought his bugle skills to Tampa police's honor guard.

It was the excitement of police work that drew him in.

"The cops and robbers, good guys and bad guys — all that romantic stuff," he said.

He loved the adrenaline rush of plainclothes narcotics investigations. He pushed his goofiness aside on high-octane tactical responses. And he led a major gang operation that netted 17 men.

In December, police work got personal when a man tried to abduct Newman's wife outside the Beall's store near Gaither High School.

The stranger told her not to scream, but she did. And when the man ran away, she ran after him.

Recalling the incident recently, Newman smiled at that part of the story. "I had to get onto her about that," he said.

The couple has two adult daughters, both teachers like their mother. For fun, the Newmans ride bikes together — they have beach cruisers with baskets — and do CrossFit, an intense workout program.

"It's her thing," Newman said. "Honestly, if it were up to me, I'd just go to the YMCA."

At the agency, Newman is known for being outgoing, animated and direct.

"You know when I'm in the room," he said.

And he's got a reputation for getting out on the streets, said Officer Matthew Kamat, who worked under Newman when he was a captain in the Sulphur Springs and New Tampa district.

Even on his first day as assistant chief, Newman was in his old district, at the scene of a double homicide.

"He's not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty," Kamat said.

Newman won't be alone at the top. Assistant Chief Bennett has taken on the bulk of RNC planning duties, and Hamlin will still be around to help.

"It's like having three people instead of two," Newman said.

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

Tampa Police assistant chief surprised by promotion but ready to shoulder responsibility

05/11/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 12, 2012 12:03am]

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