Tampa's remarkable drop in crime shows what can happen when the Police Department, mayor and neighborhood groups work together. Crime dropped again in 2009, bringing the total reduction to 56 percent over the seven years Mayor Pam Iorio has been in office. The gains in public safety reflect a commitment to policing and neighborhood involvement that officials and residents need to build on to avoid any backsliding.
Crime dropped 16 percent last year, and there were declines in every category. This is largely a testament to former Tampa police Chief Steve Hogue, whom Iorio named chief when she took office in 2003, when Tampa had one of the highest crime rates in the nation for a city its size. Hogue developed a strategy of focusing on four crimes — home and auto burglaries, car thefts and robbery — that he said were "feeder" crimes for repeat and violent offenders.
Hogue retired in September. The new chief, Jane Castor, is a career Tampa officer who was instrumental as Hogue's second-in-command in carrying out the anticrime strategy. She has even sharpened that strategy as chief, creating a "rapid offender" squad to target hot spots and get repeat offenders off the street.
Iorio has done her part, too. She did not politicize the department or micromanage the chief. While the city has cut 10 percent of its work force — or 527 positions — over the past three years to cope with the recession, Iorio has not laid off any sworn officers. Until this past year, the city showed its appreciation by giving officers generous annual pay raises of up to 9 percent. Neighborhood groups stepped up, too. With small grants by local government, neighborhood associations made their streets and parks safer, built Web sites that improved neighborhood Crime Watch programs and aided crime-prevention efforts.
Many of those grants are gone now, and the slow economic recovery means Tampa faces hard budget choices in the coming year. But the city should remember what works: strong mayoral support, the leadership of a competent chief and engaged residents who take responsibility. The mayor, Police Department and civic groups should continue to work in close collaboration to keep the crime rate headed in the right direction.