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Opinion
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Guest Column
Why Tampa needs a public safety master plan | Column
A Tampa City Council member warns that we cannot ignore the sometimes crippling public safety deficits in Tampa.
Tampa gets 1.1 million calls to 911 every year. Tampa firefighters and police are under increasing pressure to protect the community even as it is growing. A master safety plan can help identify what priorities need to be met.
Tampa gets 1.1 million calls to 911 every year. Tampa firefighters and police are under increasing pressure to protect the community even as it is growing. A master safety plan can help identify what priorities need to be met. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Apr. 2
Updated Apr. 2

More than a year ago, I proposed a public safety master plan for Tampa, an idea that is now gaining support and becoming realized.

Just before I proposed this, Tampa learned of pressing fire rescue challenges in East and North Tampa, with quick responses by Mayor Jane Castor’s administration through the funding of new emergency vehicles to help out.

Luis Viera
Luis Viera [ STEHLIK FOTO | Provided ]

My thought during these challenges: Instead of taking a reactive measure, and playing whack-a-mole with public safety crises, why does the city not do an annual study, supported by analytical data, that shows us year after year where our public safety deficits are at for both the Tampa police and fire departments?

The sad fact is that, here in Tampa, we have a public safety funding deficit with a corresponding looming crisis.

And this crisis exists in a city that is growing aggressively. In 2020, Tampa ranked ninth among applicable cities in terms of large-city growth. In the last 10 years, Tampa has grown by 20 percent, and this growth continues. And this growing city gets 1.1 million calls to 911 every year.

In North Tampa, we have Fire Station 13, which serves our Busch and Fowler area communities. Station 13 is not only the busiest station in Tampa, it is one of the busiest stations in our country: According to the 2019 National Run Survey from Firehouse Magazine, Station 13 had the 13th busiest engine and 54th busiest ladder in the United States. In Tampa, Station 13, which is one of 23 fire stations, responds to one in seven calls made city-wide. The men and women who work here have made Freddy Krueger their mascot, because when you work at Station 13, you will never sleep. The men and women who work here and the communities they serve deserve better.

We have areas exploding in growth without corresponding public safety investments. New Tampa -- which has exploded with population growth in the last 20 years -- holds four of the six fire stations in the City of Tampa with the longest call response times. In Channelside, which has experienced runaway growth and new communities, we still do not have a dedicated fire station. West Tampa benefits from new workforce housing plans, but where is the corresponding increased investment in public safety for new residents? And rescue units in East Tampa continue to be bruised with high call volume.

For the Tampa Police Department, we continue to have a city that wants good response times to calls and supports the work of law enforcement. And we have a city that wants 21st century policing with investments in community policing and measures like implicit bias training, body cameras and mental health units. But these changes, as well as maintaining our service record for growing communities, cost money.

Simply put, we are falling behind, with increasingly damaging results for public safety metrics.

In this challenge, we have collaborative leadership through the Castor administration. When challenges were brought up for East and North Tampa Fire Rescue, the administration immediately stepped up to the plate with solutions. And they remain a partner in this master plan concept.

While incremental changes are welcome, we are a long way from where we need to be. In the coming 2021 budget cycle, I will be looking for funds to make the public safety plan a reality. I hope that 2021 is the budget year in which the communities of North Tampa are given a new fire station to address the disgrace, which are the working conditions at Fire Station 13. And I hope this budget year is the year that we begin the process on a fire station for Channelside. Many officials are talking about funding mechanisms for this -- whatever the mechanism, we need to have this dialogue.

We cannot ignore the sometimes crippling public safety deficits in Tampa. This public safety master plan presents a comprehensive view on a growing city’s public safety needs and deficits. This plan shows us what our first responders already know, as well as what too many vulnerable communities already know. Now it is up to us, elected officials, to have the courage to do the right thing and fund this plan.

Luis Viera represents District 7 on the Tampa City Council.