TAMPA, Fla. — On Thursday, Tampa City Council confirmed new Tampa Police Chief Mary O'Connor by a 4-2 vote after a contentious process.
O’Connor was picked by Mayor Jane Castor to be the new police chief in February.
From her biography, O’Connor served the Tampa Police Department for 22 years, rising to the rank of assistant chief before retiring in 2016. Since then, the city said she spent time traveling the country, teaching and providing subject matter expertise and training to law enforcement and criminal justice executives. She also served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"I’m honored. I can’t use any other word. I am honored and I am humbled by this opportunity," O'Connor said following her confirmation. "I am so looking forward to serving this fine city and doing the good things that this department can do to bring the community together and work together to solve problems.”
O'Connor spoke to City Council for her confirmation Thursday about rising through the ranks and her priorities as Chief.
Over the past few weeks, concerns from some people in the community stemmed from both the selection process and O'Connor herself, including her past. A record from O'Connor's personnel file describes how she was arrested in 1995 for battery on a law enforcement officer after an incident during a traffic stop.
During her selection announcement in February, O’Connor briefly touched on her past when she was asked about officers with disciplinary problems and second chances.
“I evaluate the totality of the circumstances. I think every case stands on its own merit,” said O’Connor. “I believe in second chances, wholeheartedly as you pointed out, but I also believe that discipline needs to be given in a fair and impartial manner. So I think just like the chance that was given to me 28 years ago to evaluate every aspect of my own case, I look forward to doing that with the men and women of this department as well.”
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During the confirmation hearing, council members voiced more concern with the selection process and their perceived disrespect than with the final selection of O'Connor, as well as second chances.
“The career after that, I mean if you look at the personnel file as some people have, I don’t think there’s a blemish on it," said Council Member Guido Maniscalco.
“The process was not transparent. It was disrespectful, not just of council, especially disrespectful of council, but it was disrespectful of the public," said Council Member Bill Carlson.
Comments from the public during the meeting were mixed, while council members weighed in on the decision in front of them.
“This vote is probably the second most difficult vote I’ve had to take," said Maniscalco.
“I told you yesterday, Mary, I said you’re a casualty," said Council Chair Orlando Gudes. "I said it ain’t your fault, but you might be a casualty in this process.”
After being confirmed, ABC Action asked O'Connor what she'd like to say to her critics as she moves forward in her role.
“I say give me a chance. Let me talk to you," said O'Connor. "Let me explain who I am, what I stand for, and what this fine police department can do to turn the naysayers around.”
One of those critics has been the Hillsborough County NAACP President, Yvette Lewis. She tells ABC Action News that O'Connor will have a few hurdles to jump during her tenure. The first will come in form of rebuilding trust with the community.
"She needs to hit the ground running, understanding and respecting everyone within the community," she said.
But above all else, Lewis says O'Connor will also have to look back at past department policies that have harmed black people.
Like an initiative nicknamed "biking while black" by the community.
A 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Justice found that the program largely impacted black cyclists.
"Admit there was some wrongdoing and let the wounds heal. Let's talk about how do we fix and heal these wounds within the community," said Lewis.
O'Connor was asked about the program Thursday but claimed she didn't really play a part in it.
"During that period of time of the investigation where it was deemed that, I believed I was already a major, so I was never issuing citations. I personally have never issued a bicycle citation," she said, "I believe that the initiative had its purest intent was for safety and crime reduction and it had an unfortunate outcomes of over-policing with citation. So as far as a specific role, there’s a lot of commanders at the department, I think the communication could’ve been better but a specific role in that initiative wasn’t me.”
Lewis also tells ABC Action News that actions speak louder than words. So the Hillsborough County NAACP will be watching to see if O'Connor keeps the promises she's bound to make to the community in the coming months.