Efforts to fight violent crime in Tampa making progress, officials say

The city saw fewer nonfatal shootings and other violent crimes committed with a gun in 2022 compared to 2021, interim police Chief Lee Bercaw said Wednesday.
Tampa interim police Chief Lee Bercaw speaks at a news conference about efforts to reduce violence crime on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023 at the Tampa police headquarters. Pictured at left is U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida Roger B. Handberg.
Tampa interim police Chief Lee Bercaw speaks at a news conference about efforts to reduce violence crime on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023 at the Tampa police headquarters. Pictured at left is U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida Roger B. Handberg. [ Tampa Police Department ]
Published Jan. 4|Updated Jan. 5

Efforts to combat violent crime in Tampa led to some encouraging progress in 2022, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Violent crimes committed with a firearm dropped 5% in 2022, and nonfatal shootings dropped 17% compared to 2021, Tampa’s interim police chief, Lee Bercaw, said at a news conference. According to the department, the city saw 171 nonfatal shootings in 2022, down from 205 the previous year.

Bercaw, who was joined by U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida Roger Handberg and agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Tampa field office, said collaboration between law enforcement contributed to the reductions. The police department has also increased its efforts to build community relationships to reduce violent crime by holding public forums and partnering with community organizations, the interim chief said.

Bercaw also said police seized about 18.9% more guns than in 2021, an increase of 243 more firearms.

However, Bercaw said law enforcement still needs help from the community. In 2022, 198 firearms were stolen from unlocked vehicles, he said. The chief asks owners to lock their vehicles and secure their guns.

“Our goal is to make every community member and resident and visitor alike feel safe in our city,” Bercaw said.

The number of homicides in Tampa last year ticked up from the previous year. The city saw 48 homicides in 2022 and 43 in 2021, according to the department.

Handberg cited some cases in which his office and Tampa police worked together to prosecute defendants.

Among them was what officials called “the Robles Park criminal enterprise,” a group whose members and associates engaged in a range of crimes including murder, assault, drug trafficking and fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The group’s members were responsible for a shootout at the Truth Lounge in July 2020 that injured eight people, some of them juveniles, officials said. In retaliation for that incident, a rival group started a gunfight with Robles Park members at the International Plaza mall. No one was injured in that shooting. Four members of the Robles Park group have been charged with federal firearm and violent crimes; three of those defendants have pleaded guilty.

All told, in 2022, 91 people were charged with federal crimes, including firearm and drug charges, and the prosecutions resulted in the seizure of 74 firearms, Handberg said.

The majority of the cases Handberg mentioned were part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program designed to increase cooperation among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and community members to reduce violent crime.

“On a regular basis, federal prosecutors from my office meet with investigators from these three agencies, along with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and our counterparts at the State Attorney’s Office,” Handberg said. “The purpose of those meetings is to identify those individuals who are drivers of violent crime.”

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The city of Tampa received a $1.5 million grant from the Justice Department’s Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative in September, Handberg said. The funding will be used to work with local groups to create more safe spaces and resources for underserved youth and study the effectiveness of the Tampa Police Department’s crime reduction programs.

Tampa Police captain Travis Maus said defendants arrested for violent crime often lack positive role models and struggle with school and home life.

“I’d love for them to have a different path and a different life they could lead, that’s one of the reasons we’re excited about this $1.5 million grant,” Maus said.

The news conference comes days after a shooting in Tampa’s popular Curtis Hixon Park on Sunday that left a 16-year-old boy critically injured. In 2022, some of the shootings in Tampa involved teenagers, including a shooting that critically injured a 17-year-old girl in a Tampa neighborhood in October and an exchange of gunfire that killed a 16-year-old boy at a Tampa McDonald’s that same month.