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Tampa police chief resigns after she flashed her badge to escape a traffic stop

Mary O'Connor, pictured here addressing reporters during a news conference at Tampa Police headquarters in February, resigned after using her position to escape a ticket during a traffic stop.
Dirk Shadd
/
Tampa Bay Times via AP
Mary O'Connor, pictured here addressing reporters during a news conference at Tampa Police headquarters in February, resigned after using her position to escape a ticket during a traffic stop.

The Police Chief of Tampa, Florida resigned on Monday after body cam footage showed her asking a deputy to "just let us go" from a traffic stop.

Mayor Jane Castor said in a statement that she'd requested and received the resignation of Chief Mary O'Connor following an internal affairs investigation into the incident.

"It is unacceptable for any public employee, and especially the city's top law enforcement leader, to ask for special treatment because of their position," Castor wrote.

"Public trust in Tampa's police department is paramount to our success as a city and community."

O'Connor was a passenger in a golf cart driven by her husband when the pair were pulled over on Nov. 12, according to the Tampa Police Department.

In body camera footage, a county sheriff's deputy explains the cart didn't have a license plate tag despite being driven on a roadway, a violation of local traffic laws. O'Connor asks "is your body camera on?" before identifying herself as the police chief in Tampa, handing over her badge, and adding, "I'm hoping you'll just let us go tonight."

Later in the exchange, O'Connor apologizes and hands over her business card, saying, "if you ever need anything, call me. Seriously. I appreciate you."

In a statement released last week, O'Connor apologized to the residents of Tampa and said she called the sheriff's office offering to pay for any citations.

"In hindsight, I realize how my handling of this matter could be viewed as inappropriate, but that was certainly not my intent," she said. "I knew my conversation was on video, and my motive was not to put the deputy in an uncomfortable position."

According to the Tampa Bay Times, O'Connor was arrested during a traffic stop three decades ago as a rookie officer. She pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges after striking a deputy and disrupting officers from conducting a sobriety test on her then-boyfriend.

O'Connor was fired from the police force for the incident, but later reinstated. She worked her way up through the ranks, becoming Police Chief earlier this year.

Castor wrote that her disappointment over O'Connor's behavior was deepened by Castor's belief in second chances.

"She was off to such a strong start by reducing violent gun crime, proactively engaging with our community and focusing on officer wellness," Castor wrote.

"But these accomplishments pale in comparison to the priority I place on integrity."

The city said it would launch a national search for O'Connor's replacement. Assistant Police Chief Lee Bercaw will step into the role in the interim.

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Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.