TAMPA — As Tampa’s interim police chief, Ruben “Butch” Delgado is responsible for steering the department’s efforts to attack the city’s intractable gun violence problem.
On Tuesday, Delgado will host a community forum to tell residents what his department is doing to address the issue and solicit ideas about what else the city and its police force could do.
The forum is set for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Jackson Heights YET Center, 3310 E Lake Ave.
A department news release announcing the event says it’s the first in a series of forums that will be held in each of the city’s three patrol districts. Details about the forums in the other districts have not been released.
A flyer bills the event as “an open forum on how the department is working to address gun violence in our communities.” The news release says Delgado will talk about “new initiatives he’s putting in place to help combat the problem.”
Delgado declined an interview request from the Tampa Bay Times to talk about the new initiatives, saying through a spokesperson that he wanted to wait until the event.
In an interview with the Times on Dec. 7, Delgado talked about several aspects of the city’s gun violence problem. By that point, the city had seen 45 homicides, up from 37 at the same time last year, according to department data.
Delgado said the city shouldn’t focus solely on the homicides “because that’s not a true indicator of what’s happening in the community.”
“We have to look at all the shootings and see how that’s trending,” he said.
As of Dec. 7, 214 people had been shot in the city, according to the department. The number was 207 at the same point last year.
“That’s not to say that’s not too many, but it’s not the big spike that you’re looking at when you look at the homicide rate,” Delgado said.
The uptick in shootings and homicides in Tampa the last couple of years aligns with a national trend. The United States experienced its steepest one-year increase on record in homicides in 2020, with some cities hitting record highs, according to figures released by the FBI in September. Major crimes overall were down.
The higher murder rate in the country has continued into 2021, although the pace has slowed as the year has progressed. Experts have said the reasons for the increases are complex. Economic and mental stress from the coronavirus pandemic is often cited. So is the tension between law enforcement and communities during the height of last year’s calls for police reform and social unrest.
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In Tampa, the pandemic and the need for social distancing prompted the department to dial back interaction with the public and shift some officer assignments, putting a crimp in community-policing efforts. Things are starting to get back to normal, Delgado said.
“I think you’re starting to see officers now more engaged,” Delgado said. “They’re starting to be more proactive again. And you’ll see next year we’re going to put a big emphasis on violent crime and adding officers into the areas where we’ve seen the shootings.”
But the strategy must stop short of overpolicing, Delgado said. His department has had success identifying a small group of what he called “serial trigger pullers” responsible for an outsized portion of the violence, he said, and getting them off the streets is a smarter approach than disrupting neighborhoods with too many cops.
Also set to speak at the forum is Patricia Brown, whose 27-year-old son Devantè was fatally shot last year. After the shooting, Brown co-founded Rise Up For Peace, a nonprofit organization devoted to reducing gun violence in the city.
It will take the contribution of the city’s residents to reduce the number of families who must grapple with the pain and loss hers is enduring, Brown said.
“We need the community to come out and see what we can come up with,” she said. “We’re asking for all of your support and help.”