TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa’s Police Chief Brian Dugan is three days away from retirement. He spent the last 31 years at TPD.
His time as chief started nearly four years ago as Tampa was in the grips of a serial killer in Seminole Heights. Brian Dugan said he was the only police chief sworn in without a press conference. That’s because he and then-Mayor Bob Buckhorn decided it would be best to focus on the investigation, and not take any time away from finding the killer.
“I was not sleeping I was constantly on edge, you’re worried,” Dugan said of the long and exhausting 51 day search. “You’re just thrust into the situation and you’re not really prepared for it. And what I did was just try to be me. And for whatever reason people connected with me. It was certainly pressure-packed. There’s no doubt. The entire department felt that pressure.”
Halloween was nearly canceled that year out of fear. He said a fond memory was when he announced to the public that wouldn’t happen.
“I’m like we’re not canceling Halloween. I said, 'in fact if anyone is scared come with me and I’ll go trick-or-treating with you.' And we’ve done it ever since then,” he said smiling.
Dugan said the day TPD arrested Howell Donaldson for the four murders he left early to take his son to the doctor. He admits he had been an “absentee dad” and needed normalcy.
“I get home early that day and just as I was taking my gun belt off they called me and it was the first real tip that we had,” he said. “We knew what we were looking for when we found what type of gun it was. I said this is it and put my stuff back on. I said to my wife, 'I’m sorry but I gotta go back to work.'”
After that, he felt relief and said the community was tighter than ever before.
“I also think it made me a better chief,” he said. “That connected me with my community more than ever in my entire career. People would come up to me and say hello to me and thank me and it just really evolved into a great relationship with the community over that.”
As 2020 arrived, COVID forced people indoors and civil unrest erupted over the death of George Floyd.
“That tragic incident vilified police officers throughout the nation. To paint an entire law enforcement community with such a broad brush is not right. I get people's frustration. To see the things that happened over some of those protests here in Tampa was very disappointing,” he said.
Dugan describes last year as the “perfect storm” that made being in law enforcement very difficult.
“For 30 years I never had a job. I loved to come into work. The last 18 months it turned into a job,” he said.
When asked if those things drove his decision to retire, he said no.
“I think it was a combination of things. It just added up. After 31 years and four years as chief it was just time to go. Four years as a chief of police is a long time, you age in dog years as chief," he laughed.
His advice to the next chief — listen and be open to change. There’s still work to be done at TPD but Dugan said he’s confident the foundation is there.
His advice to anyone that has thought about a career in law enforcement — you have to want it and it has to be a calling.
What’s next for Dugan is still up in the air but he is grateful for the past 31 years.
“Yeah sometimes I have to pinch myself that I was the chief of police,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of good times as chief and it’s truly been an honor of a lifetime.”
Mayor Jane Castor said Assistant Chief Ruben Delgado will be the acting chief in the meantime, then a search will commence for a new police chief that she says will be a nationwide search.