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The mayor says the first female leader comes from within "the best police department in the nation."

Jane Castor was a 24-year-old police recruit when she got her first law enforcement honor.

Her peers elected her president of their police academy class, making her the first woman at the Tampa Police Department to achieve the title.

On Wednesday, 25 years after graduating first in her class and rising from patrol to administration, Castor received the department's highest honor:


She is the first woman in Tampa's history to hold that title.

Mayor Pam Iorio made the announcement during a morning news conference, praising retiring Chief Stephen Hogue for leaving a legacy of leadership that allowed her to pick his successor without moving from the 10th floor of police headquarters.

"I don't see the need for a nationwide search when we've got the best police department in the nation right here," Iorio said.

Hogue leaves the department Sept. 30 after 29 years, the last six as chief.

While his own tenure has been marked by a dramatic drop in the crime rate - by almost 50 percent - Hogue offered his own prediction about what is to come under the next administration.

"Jane Castor," he said, "at the end of her tenure, is going to be recognized as the best chief this city has ever had."

Castor will oversee the department's $133 million budget and 1,300 employees, 981 of them sworn officers.

If there ever has been a time when Castor, 49, didn't impress her peers as ready to lead, it's hard to find evidence of it today.

The 6-foot Chamberlain High graduate was the captain of her basketball and volleyball teams when she played on scholarship at the University of Tampa.

When she joined the department, her supervisors glowed that she possessed all the qualities that could make her a success: "a quick mind and good common sense," "outgoing," "good rapport with the public," "popular with co-workers and supervisors."

Through 25 years, as she rose from street cop to assistant chief in 2005, the commendations and words of confidence never flagged.

Assistant Chief Bob Guidara, who is retiringFriday, recalls reviewing Castor's performance when he was a training corporal and she was new.

"I said, 'If you continue to perform and to grow in the manner in which you have since you've been here, I will one day work for you,'" Guidara said. "I said, 'You have the potential to be the chief of police.'"

And though Castor on Wednesday said that she hadn't always set her sights on being chief, her career path shows she was planning to lead from the beginning.

Only two years after getting hired, she was prepping to become an academy instructor. Two years after that, she told her supervisors she wanted to get a master's degree.

"She clearly is a born leader in her demeanor," Iorio said. "I have total confidence in Jane."

Castor credited Hogue and Iorio as visionaries and thanked them for their tutelage.

She stopped short of reflecting too much on her gender.

"The significance of being the first female is certainly not lost on me," she said, before citing Iorio as another strong female leader in the area. "Frankly, I'd rather be known as a good chief than the first female."

There are nine female police chiefs in Florida, including Pinellas Park Chief Dorene Thomas, according to the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

Nationwide, about 300 out of 18,000 police chiefs are women, according to women-in-policing expert Dorothy Schulz of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Castor's promotion had added significance for another reason. Openly gay, she has served for more than six years as a liaison to Tampa's gay and lesbian community.

Brian Winfield, spokesman for Equality Florida, said it was that communication that eventually helped police identify Steven Lorenzo of Seminole Heights as a suspect in the 2003 murders of two gay men.

"We think it's incredible," Winfield said. "She's been instrumental in building a bridge of communication, and she's built a trust that is exceptional and unfortunately rare in the rest of the state."

Even the police union president seemed pleased, though not surprised.

Detective Greg Stout, president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, worked under Castor for three or four years when she oversaw the criminal investigations bureau. He said she seemed a natural pick.

"She was an outstanding supervisor," Stout said. "She was open with communication, asked our opinion. She didn't always take it, but she always asked, which is refreshing in the hierarchy of law enforcement."

Castor, who, by the way, is no relation to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, said she plans to continue with Hogue's mission of reducing crime but expects to focus more on streamlining costs and incorporating more technology in the policing strategy.

Iorio said she expects the City Council to confirm Castor's appointment to the $144,394 position on Oct. 1.

Also promoted Wednesday were majors John Bennett and Marc Hamlin. Bennett, who commands District 2, replaces Castor as assistant chief of operations. Hamlin, who oversees the city's special support division, takes Guidara's spot as assistant chief of investigations.


Incoming Tampa police Chief Jane Castor

Personal: Born in 1959 to a cabinetmaker father and a receptionist mother, the fourth of five children. Raised near Tampa's Lake Magdalene. In high school, lettered in basketball, swimming, volleyball and track.

Children: Two boys, both age 10.

Education: Chamberlain High School; University of Tampa, bachelor's degree in criminology; Troy State University, master's in public administration; graduate of FBI National Academy.

Career: Joined Tampa department in 1984. Worked in the narcotics bureau and the sex crimes and child abuse squad in the mid 1990s. Oversaw a crackdown on adult businesses. By 2001, was a major in charge of multiagency drug investigations. As assistant chief since 2005, oversaw crime-reducing tactics and managed a $56 million budget for the Department of Homeland Security's Tampa Bay Urban Area Security Initiative.

Source: Times files, Tampa Police Department