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A Times Editorial

High marks for Tampa police strategy

An outside review of last year's manhunt for police killer suspect Dontae Morris gives deserved credit to Tampa police, bay area law enforcement agencies and the public for working together to bring about a peaceful arrest. The review provides further validation of the department's community policing strategy and police Chief Jane Castor's leadership. But the report offers a narrow look at the tactics officers used over those four days. And some of its recommendations would move the department's image in the wrong direction.

At Castor's request, the Justice Department asked the nonprofit CNA Institute for Public Research to review the four-day manhunt, the largest in the city's history. Morris is accused of killing Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis after a traffic stop June 29 and is awaiting trial.

CNA's review did not analyze the details surrounding the stop, but rather picked up after the shooting, as Tampa police established a command post, organized the search, dealt with the loss of their colleagues and shaped a message for the media on a fast-moving story.

The resulting report praises Tampa police for establishing a command quickly and for making good use of the officers who rushed from other area agencies to help. Officials were slow to deploy a software program to track incoming leads, but that program, E-Sponder, was up within 18 hours. Some officers were left in the dark on the status of the search because some commanders refused to broadcast over public radio channels. Overall, though, the report paints a picture of a well-run operation. The consultant said Tampa's experience could be a model for the country.

The Tampa Bay area has already benefited from this review; the Tampa Police Department used its E-Sponder software as it assisted St. Petersburg police after Officer David Crawford was shot in February.

But most importantly the report validates the department's long-term policies, not just its immediate response to the police shootings. Castor's success in bringing Morris in without further loss of life is a credit to the focus she has placed on community policing and to the standing the department has with other area law enforcement and the public. Business and civic leaders also stepped up in the hours after the shooting, a reflection of good relationships that aren't built overnight.

And to her credit, Castor understands that following one of the review's recommendations — walling off the media from the command scene — would ultimately undermine that success. The publicity helped close Morris in. It made the community more invested in what these officers sacrificed.

Castor showed her professionalism and concern for her officers and community by being willing to have outside experts examine the case. The public still has a very incomplete picture of how the manhunt unfolded and Morris surrendered. But it can have more faith in the department under pressure. Going forward, it will be important to ensure that lessons learned reflect what's best for Tampa.

High marks for Tampa police strategy 05/03/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 6:54pm]
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