Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan announced his retirement Monday, capping a 31-year career with the agency. He started as an officer in 1990 and over the years steadily rose in the ranks. He was one of three finalists considered for the top job in 2015. Two years later, then-Mayor Bob Buckhorn tapped him to lead the department upon the retirement of then-Chief Eric Ward.
In four years leading an agency that boasts close to 1,000 sworn officers, Dugan dealt with a natural disaster, a string of homicides that were characterized as the work of a serial killer, a line-of-duty death, and criticisms of his leadership amid protests against police brutality.
Here are some of the highlights of his tenure:
July 2017 — Mayor Bob Buckhorn names Dugan the city’s interim police chief upon the announcement of the retirement of former Chief Eric Ward. The mayor says he will conduct a national search for a new chief.
September 2017 — Dugan faces his first major test in coordinating the department’s response to Hurricane Irma. More than 500 officers stage operations at Raymond James Stadium during the storm. As winds die down and with street lights out, Dugan instructs officers to cruise the streets with blue and red lights flashing to show their presence. The storm sweeps through much of the state, but ultimately the city is spared substantial damage.
October and November 2017 — Dugan reveals in a news conference that two random murders in the city’s Seminole Heights neighborhood appear to be linked. Over the course of 51 days, he commands a search for a killer who later claims two more victims in the same neighborhood. The case craws international attention. In late November, police arrest Howell Donaldson III, accusing him of the crimes. Donaldson remains jailed awaiting trial.
November 2017 — Buckhorn names Dugan the city’s permanent chief. “He’s lived up to every expectation I’ve had of him,” Buckhorn later said.
March 2018 — Dugan manages a crisis as two officers are shot at while trying to make an early-morning warrant arrest. Officer Richard Lehr is shot, but survives. The man accused of the shooting surrenders peacefully. “It was very lucky for our officers that they didn’t come out of this situation in a much worse way,” Dugan tells reporters.
May 2019 — Dugan announces that he has fired three officers after a seven-month investigation that revealed what he described as a pattern of bad behavior that included failure to document detentions and searches and to properly dispose of seized drugs. The chief says the department looked at whether the officers were using, selling or planting drugs on people, but found no evidence of that. Nevertheless, he said they’d embarrassed the department. “They have placed the community’s trust in jeopardy,” he said. “They have tarnished our brand.”
Spring and Summer 2020 — Tampa and other cities see daily protests against police brutality and calls to defund police after the May killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers. Tampa officers clashed with some protest groups in late May and early June, prompting accusations that police were being too heavy-handed. Dugan defended the department’s response to the various demonstrations. He publicly disagreed with the decision of Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren after he declined to prosecute one group of 60 people whom officers arrested on charges of unlawful assembly.
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January 2021 — Dugan announces that he is isolating at home after testing positive for COVID-19. Since the pandemic began in the spring of 2020, more than 130 Tampa police officers had tested positive for the deadly respiratory illness. Dugan had already received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, but had yet to receive a second shot when he became sick. As he recovers, Dugan urges people to get vaccinated.
March 2021 — Dugan endures criticism after he announces the firing of Delvin White, a Black school resource officer who was recorded on video uttering the N-word. Students, civic leaders and the Tampa Police Benevolent Association say the firing was too harsh.
March 2021 — Officer Jesse Madsen becomes the first Tampa Police Officer in a decade to be killed in the line of duty when he veers into the path of a wrong-way driver on Interstate 275. Dugan leads as a department mourns the loss of an officer who was repeatedly recognized for saving lives. Speaking at the officer’s funeral, Dugan likens him to a super hero, and notes that his final act was one of self-sacrifice to save lives.
July 2021 — Dugan announces his retirement, effective in September. “Our entire community owes him a debt of gratitude for the way he has led,” Mayor Jane Castor says in a news conference. Castor appoints Assistant Chief Ruben Delgado as acting chief and says she will conduct a national search for a permanent replacement.