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Tampa police chief pleads: Stop the gun violence in East Tampa

Tampa has experienced a 60 percent increase in homicides from a year ago, according to the Tampa Police Department.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, with officers and community members at his side, spoke Friday about rising gun violence in East Tampa.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, with officers and community members at his side, spoke Friday about rising gun violence in East Tampa. [ Josh Fiallo ]
Published Jun. 18
Updated Jun. 18

TAMPA — Gun violence has ravaged East Tampa the first half of 2021, with the area accounting for all of the city’s 21 homicides by gunfire and a majority of its 230 non-fatal shootings to date, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said Friday.

There have been 23 homicides in the city so far this year, up from 14 homicides at this time a year ago.

Dugan, joined by family members of some of those killed in recent shootings, released the city’s numbers at a Friday afternoon news conference at Cyrus Green Park. While homicide numbers are up nationwide, Dugan emphasized that Tampa does not need to be like the rest of the country.

“It’s deeply concerning when you look at these numbers, which are also names and faces,” said Dugan. “Violent crime numbers are up and you can see it’s affecting just small pockets of our city.”

Tampa police shared a map of where gun violence has occurred in Tampa so far in 2021. Most shootings — and all fatal ones — took place in East Tampa.
Tampa police shared a map of where gun violence has occurred in Tampa so far in 2021. Most shootings — and all fatal ones — took place in East Tampa. [ Tampa Police Department ]

Dugan said it’s impossible to say exactly why homicides are up. There was one clear trend, however: Correlating with an increase in homicides has been an uptick in the number of firearms stolen this year — 369 guns in total, Dugan said.

Dugan pleaded with Tampa residents to properly store their guns so they don’t get into the wrong hands. Specifically, he emphasized that guns stored in vehicles are especially susceptible to be stolen, which has already happened 98 times this year.

“The only correlation is the number of guns that aren’t stored properly,” Dugan said. “We’re asking people to simply lock their cars and to not store your gun in your car. That’s 98 guns in the wrong hands.”

While proper gun storage could solve part of the problem, it would not solve all of it, Dugan said. Instead, he said the change has to occur from within the community, which is why he hosted Friday’s news conference in the heart of East Tampa.

Dugan made no mention of gangs on Friday as a potential reason behind the violence. Other city leaders have claimed gangs are behind the uptick in violence recently, however, most notably County Commissioner Les Miller.

“We have a gang violence problem in Tampa and Hillsborough County,” Miller said during a commission meeting on May 27. “I don’t care what law enforcement says. Those are gangs. We have to face the fact that there are gangs out there.”

Regardless of the cause, the family members of victims have taken matters into their own hands. Together they formed the organization “Rise Up for Peace,” a non-profit organization that organizes marches to keep the memory of those killed alive in the community.

One of the organization’s founders is Patricia Brown. The Tampa native’s 27-year-old son was killed by a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting in March of last year. He was one of three men killed within a span of three days at the time. His killer still remains at large and Brown vows to continue marching for those who are in a similar situation.

Patricia Brown, 54, in the doorway of her apartment at the Tampa Park Apartments on July 17, 2020 in Tampa.
Patricia Brown, 54, in the doorway of her apartment at the Tampa Park Apartments on July 17, 2020 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Related: Tampa Park mom: Leaving behind tragedy, carrying heartache

Brown’s organization will be hosting two walks in the next month and has invited the public to attend. The first will begin at Grant Park on June 26. The second will begin at Cyrus Greene Park on July 10. Both walks will begin at noon and last about three hours.

“I’m begging and pleading again,” Brown said Friday. “You’re hurting too many families, hurting too many kids that are losing loved ones . . . It’s getting to be too much for everybody.”