Tampa Police Chief Dugan reflects on challenges of pandemic, civil unrest before retirement

Hillsborough County

TAMPA (WFLA) – Chief Brian Dugan is set to retire from the Tampa Police Department after 31 years in uniform and the past four years serving as the city’s top cop.

He says there is no singular reason for why he’s stepping down now.

“The last 18 months have been a struggle,” Chief Dugan said in a sit-down interview Tuesday with 8 On Your Side.  “I’m not gonna lie about that. It’s no secret what has gone on in our country from the pandemic to the civil unrest to continuously dealing with the pandemic and the loss of a police officer was heartbreaking for me and I just decided it was time for me to go.”

Chief Dugan said it has been difficult hiring officers during the pandemic and managing the department when some became sick with the virus. He recalls early on in the pandemic when Tampa police would receive calls about people not social distancing on Bayshore Boulevard.

“Our country kind of lost our mind there and sometimes I still think we’re trying to find it again,” he said.

Dugan said he has fully recovered from COVID-19 since testing positive in January 2021.

When Dugan was still Tampa’s interim police chief in October and November 2017, one of his first major tests was the investigation into the Seminole Heights Serial Killer.

“It was an opportunity for 51 days and the way we knew it was 51 days is we literally counted every single of when these murders started to where we were and whether we had made any progress in the investigation,” Chief Dugan said, “and what it did was give me an opportunity to meet the community and the community to get to know me.”

Howell Donaldson III remains in jail awaiting trial for the four murders.

“I will be shocked if I’m not actually there,” Chief Dugan said of the trial.

This past March, Officer Jesse Madsen veered into the path of a wrong way driver and became the first TPD officer in more than a decade to be killed in the line of duty.

“When I left Jesse out there and went to meet (his wife) Danielle, that was the longest drive of my life,” Chief Dugan said. “When I had to get down on one knee at his funeral and present her the flag that had draped his coffin is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Following the civil unrest after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police in May 2020, Chief Dugan said the expansion of body-worn cameras has been the most meaningful change for TPD.

“I don’t think it’s the answer to everything,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the solution but when we’re able to control the video and we’re able to send our own messaging out and show all the good cops do, I think that’s the number one thing.”

8 On Your Side asked Chief Dugan whether the cameras should be the standard for all Florida law enforcement agencies.

“It develops a model of transparency and trust,” he said. “But it’s an economic issue. We all want transparency, but do we want to pay for it.”

In the months after the George Floyd protests, Chief Dugan clashed with Tampa City Council over how to build better trust in the community.

“The frustration was, here we are a year later after George Floyd and they’re still trying to make a decision and I felt we needed to put some of this stuff behind us,” he said.

Despite the ongoing challenges from COVID-19, Chief Dugan told 8 On Your Side he is optimistic about the future of the Tampa police force.

“The foundation is here once this pandemic is truly over, we can bond with the community that loves us and we love them and this department is gonna roll forward,” he said.

Chief Dugan shared his best advice for Tampa’s next top cop.

“I think the next chief has to be a good listener, has to be flexible and they have to be patient,” he said, “probably more patient than I was. I don’t have the patience for a lot of things. They’ll probably need to be a little more politically correct than I was, but sometimes my candidness got me in trouble. But you have to be you and I think if I wasn’t allowed to be myself, then I don’t think I would have been as successful.”

Chief Dugan said he is unsure what his future holds, but at 54-years-old, he said after some time off he will likely need to find another job.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has selected Assistant Chief Ruben Delgado to be the acting chief while she conducts a national search for a permanent replacement.

Chief Dugan’s last day on the job is Friday, Sept. 10.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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