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Tampa police officers to wear pins noting military service

 
Assistant Chief Eli Vazquez wears a Marine Corps pin above his name. The 265 veterans at the Tampa Police Department have started wearing pins identifying which branch of the military they served in on their uniforms Tuesday. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL | Times]
Assistant Chief Eli Vazquez wears a Marine Corps pin above his name. The 265 veterans at the Tampa Police Department have started wearing pins identifying which branch of the military they served in on their uniforms Tuesday. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL | Times]
Published May 22, 2018

TAMPA — When Tampa police Capt. Calvin Johnson responds to calls, his time in the Army rarely comes up. When it does, people ask him what war he was in, his length of service and where he was stationed.

The conversation, Johnson said, changes how people treat him.

"It makes you a person to them," Johnson said. "They don't see you as just an officer in a uniform, they see you as a military brother."

Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan is hoping to spark more conversations like that and connect with the Tampa veteran population by allowing officers to wear pins on their uniforms that identify which branch of the armed forces they served in.

He announced the policy Tuesday during a news conference with Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Crisis Center of Tampa Bay CEO Clara Reynolds.

"Not every veteran out there has PTSD or is broken or whatever label you want to give to them," Dugan said. "Sometimes they just want someone to talk to."

There are 265 veterans working at TPD — more than one-quarter of the sworn officers — and many come into contact daily with some of the estimated 20,000 veterans living in the city, Dugan said.

Directing veterans to programs that deal with mental health treatment and career assistance will be part of Detective Susan Libertz new job as the department's military affairs liaison.

"Veterans will be able to contact us or ask any officer on the street to contact us directly," said Libertz, a first sergeant in the Air Force Reserve. "These programs exist. We just want to get the ball rolling."

The relationship between police and veterans is sometimes strained, Dugan acknowledged.

"We've been in shootings with them," he said. "Anything we can do to avoid those situations and embrace conversation is our goal."

Contact Jonathan Capriel at 813-225-3141 or jcapriel@tampabay.com. Follow @jonathancapriel.