TAMPA — Here we go again.
Ten months after Tampa Mayor Jane Castor selected a new police chief, she is back on the hunt after requesting and accepting the resignation of her last pick — Mary O’Connor — on Monday. O’Connor stepped down from her $192,000 post after an investigation found she violated department policies by flashing her badge and asking a Pinellas deputy to let her and her husband go during a traffic stop last month.
Castor said Monday that she plans to do a national search that she described as exhaustive, comprehensive and inclusive of the community’s input. Castor drew criticism earlier this year when she picked O’Connor after a process that some, including City Council members, said lacked transparency and community involvement.
This time around, Castor, herself a former chief of the department, said that she will hire a national firm to conduct the search. She said such a search “doesn’t eliminate anyone in the Tampa Police Department.”
“One of the things that our police department does well is succession planning, ensuring that staff members are ready to step up to the next level of responsibility,” Castor said during a Monday interview.
So who’s already working in the department that has the sort of resume to make them credible internal candidates?
Castor tapped O’Connor’s Assistant Chief Lee Bercaw to serve as acting chief during the search-and-selection process that Castor said is expected to take several months. Bercaw, 51, is a 25-year veteran with a wide range of experience in the department. He told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday that he hadn’t decided yet about applying and said his focus at the moment is “keeping the forward momentum of the department going.”
Under Bercaw are two deputy chiefs, Michael Hutner and Calvin Johnson, who oversee different parts of the department and between them supervise the department’s five majors.
Hutner, 49, oversees operations, which includes supervising the three majors who each lead a patrol district. At the time, he was a major overseeing the department’s Criminal Investigations Division.
Hutner joined the department in 1998 and has worked in all three patrol districts, according to his department biography. He has been assigned to a variety of units, including Field Training, Street Anti-Crime and Rapid Offender Control. As a captain, he served as a commander in District 2 and the Major Crimes Bureau.
Hutner has a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and is a graduate of the Senior Management Institute of Policing.
Johnson, 51, oversees investigations and support. In that role, he supervises the two majors who oversee criminal investigations and the Special Support Bureau, which includes such areas as personnel, training, supply and fleet management.
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Johnson started with the department in 1999 and has served as a sector commander in all three patrol districts. A U.S. Army veteran who served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Johnson has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in criminology, both from the University of South Florida.
Hutner and Johnson haven’t been in their roles for long. O’Connor promoted them both in May.
The Times asked Hutner and Johnson through the department’s public information office if they planned to apply and each responded with a statement.
“I am happy serving in my current role, but if called upon, I am willing to step into any leadership position for the betterment of TPD and the community,” Hutner said.
“I grew up in Tampa, and I love this city,” Johnson said. “I look forward to continuing to serve my community in any capacity that I can. While I am focused on my current role, I am open to any future possibilities at this department.”
Along with potential internal candidates, O’Connor’s abrupt departure raises questions about a former high-ranking officer who was favored by many in the city for the job last time around and who hasn’t been gone long: Ruben “Butch” Delgado.
Castor tapped Delgado, who along with Bercaw was then one of Chief Brian Dugan’s two assistant chiefs, to serve as interim chief after Dugan retired in September 2021. By this time last year, Delgado had held the interim title for more than four months.
Little was known at that time about Castor’s search process. She’d said she would conduct a national search, but the job wasn’t publicly advertised.
Not until Jan. 26 — four months after Dugan retired — did Castor announce she had narrowed the field to three finalists: Delgado, O’Connor and Cherise Gause, an assistant chief with the Miami Police. The city held a public forum that same night that was supposed to feature all three candidates, but Delgado couldn’t attend due to his father’s death.
On Feb. 8, Castor announced that she had tapped O’Connor, who had retired from the department in 2016, as an assistant chief. In making the announcement, Castor said she was confident that Delgado “will make a great chief of police one day.”
Delgado’s supporters, who included the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, the department’s union, hoped he’d stick around as one of O’Connor’s assistant chiefs to stay in a prime position to be the department’s next leader. In late May, Delgado announced he was retiring from the department to take a private sector job.
During an interview with the Times in July, Delgado acknowledged he was disappointed and surprised by the outcome. He called the search and selection process “very confusing.”
Delgado took a job as national director of a special fraud investigation unit at Tampa-based Heritage Insurance. Asked during the interview if he would consider coming back to serve as chief if he got the chance, Delgado replied, “It would be something I would definitely entertain.”
On Tuesday, Delgado said in a text message that his new job is going well and he’s not commenting for now on whether he will apply for the job.
“In the last police chief search, clearly Butch Delgado was a very viable candidate,” Castor said when asked Monday about Delgado. “And I sat with him and provided him with a path to the possibility of becoming the chief (in) the future and he chose to retire.”
Asked if she’d consider Delgado if he applied, she replied, “I don’t think that’s going to happen,” meaning she didn’t think he would seek the job.
In emailed responses to questions from the Times, Tampa Police Benevolent Association spokesperson Danny Alvarez said the union wants an “open and transparent, well-planned and robust selection process.”
“It is absolutely necessary that we find a boots on the ground leader who remembers what its like to be a patrol officer and stands besides the men and women of our agency,” Alvarez said. “We need someone who can balance handling the ever growing political influences from higher and remembering to lead and inspire the folks in the ranks.”
Alvarez said it was too early in the process for the union to identify any potential favored internal candidates.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated with the correct year that Michael Hutner joined the Tampa Police Department.