Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn chose an experienced, sensible leader in naming Brian Dugan as the city’s new chief of police. Dugan, an agency veteran who had served as interim chief since July, knows the city and the department, and his sensitivity to the evolving demands on law enforcement will well serve his officers and the public. Whether a stronger candidate was in the wings is unclear, as the city short-circuited a national search. But Dugan is a solid pick who should bring stability at a critical time.
Buckhorn’s announcement Tuesday caught even the chief by surprise. Though Dugan had applied for the permanent post, the search process was ongoing, and the department is focused on solving the murders of three people over an 11-day period last month in southeast Seminole Heights, north of downtown. Buckhorn and Dugan have been visible in the neighborhood, appearing together to calm nerves, boost officers’ morale and build stronger relations between residents and police. Buckhorn said he was impressed with how Dugan managed the situation and how he handled the police response to Hurricane Irma in September.
Dugan’s 27 years with the department and the comfort level he enjoys with the mayor give him the experience and a strong political foundation to make his mark as chief. He worked his way up from a beat officer and has handled virtually every aspect on the operational side, including managing the budget. He is respected and liked by his officers, ready with an informed opinion and genuinely open to critical feedback. He averted what could have been a public relations disaster for the agency earlier this year by reaching out to Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown, who had added his voice to national protests over racial injustice and police misconduct. The two now have a working relationship to address a matter of mutual concern.
As chief, Dugan will oversee a department of 1,000 officers in a growing city that’s becoming more urbanized and diverse. He will need to use his street smarts and savvy to strengthen crime-fighting in the inner city without alienating minority residents whose cooperation the authorities need. His maturity in uniform makes him a role model for younger officers, and his time in the command ranks prepares him to formally take charge of a large and politically tinged bureaucracy, which can only be expected to become more vocal in the run-up to the mayoral race in 2019.
Despite Dugan’s strengths, Buckhorn should have allowed the search process to play out. He announced a national search after then-Chief Eric Ward retired suddenly in July, saying: "We’ve got an obligation to go out and see what talent is out there." Dugan’s appointment follows a long tradition of hiring from the inside, and while it relieves the termed-out mayor of any flack for choosing an outsider, it is a lost opportunity to get a fresh perspective on the department. The city, which engaged a head-hunting firm for the search and has failed for weeks to comply with public records requests by the Tampa Bay Times for the list of applicants, should disclose the competitors. This post is second only in profile to the mayor’s.
Dugan’s hands-on style has served the department well in the ongoing murder probe, and he receives high marks from many in the community for his work ethic and open, reasonable nature. He will need to remain accessible, but he has been impressive in tense situations. That’s a compelling start for any police chief.