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History of the Tampa Police Department

Police automobilesIn 1855, the first official law enforcement position created was City Marshall by an act to incorporate the City of Tampa.  Over the next 18 years the City Marshall's duties and responsibilities were expanded to include summoning members of patrol by midnight along with examining and recording marks and brands on butchered cattle.

In 1886, the first police force was created in Tampa by passage of another city ordinance and thus began the Tampa Police Department some fifty-one years after the first police force in America was created.  Tampa's first police force was quite small, with a Chief of Police replacing the City Marshall, aided by an Assistant Chief, a Sergeant, and three mounted officers.  But some key elements of a modern police force were instituted during that time.  Standards for officer qualification were established based on merit and physical fitness and officers began wearing uniforms.  Two detective positions were also added during this period of time.  The following year, on July 15, 1887, the town of Tampa officially incorporated as a city.

Police CarsOver the next 26 years the Tampa Police Department evolved through a number of reorganizations, adding and subtracting positions, establishing a pension plan for officers and developing rules and regulations dealing with officer's conduct.  In 1913, the department created its first Identification Officer position.  The officer assigned to the position used the Bertillion System of identification, which preceded the fingerprint method used today in law enforcement.  The Bertillion System used a process of measuring body parts such as the nose, eyes and hands along with other characteristics to identify individuals.

1915, was a landmark year as the department relocated to its new headquarters located at Florida Avenue and Jackson Street in Downtown Tampa.  That same year Tampa saw the advent of a revolutionary tool in local law enforcement, the automobile.  Tampa added an officer to the motored assignment who was both chauffeur and mechanic for the department.  In 1936, with automotive thefts rising, the department added an Auto Theft Bureau to deal with this relatively new dilemma.  Additional functions such as parking meter enforcement were added to the tasks performed by the department along with an expanded role in traffic law enforcement.

Police officers on motor bikesDuring the years from 1936 to 1961, the department underwent additional redeployments and Tampa saw its first parking meters in the 1940's.  But 1961, saw major developments in the department's history.  First and foremost was a move to a new police building located on Tampa Street at Henderson Avenue.  This facility would serve as headquarters until the department moved to its current building in 1997.  The first floor of the two-story complex housed police operations while the second floor housed the city's jail and administrative operations.  A college training program was instituted that year with participating officers being given special consideration pertaining to work hours and finances.  The "platoon" deployment system was adopted giving equal numbers of officers to each platoon, which was rotated between day, evening and midnight shifts.  The Police Athletic League was officially organized and one officer was assigned to it full-time to provide special activities for Tampa's youth.

In 1962, the Criminal Intelligence Unit was organized and became responsible for developing and disseminating available information to officers through special files and investigations.

The Field Instructor system of training newly appointed police officers was established in 1965.  Initially, the Field Instructors were the corporals of the squads.  Later they were each squad's top performing and senior officers.

1967, brought a new deployment of manpower with the abolition of the platoon system.  A flexible deployment system with 21 squads replaced it.  The system deployed officers to areas based on need.

The Tampa Police academy received certification as a qualified training institute in 1968, by the State Minimum Standards Training Commission.  At that time the academy was held inside the police department's building.

1969, brought another revolutionary advent of law enforcement to the department with the purchase of two Hughes 300 helicopters to compliment the two fixed-wing aircraft already in operation.  The helicopter's role in supporting officers on the ground during searches was tremendous.

The office of Public Information was created in 1971, to act as a liaison between the department and the news media.  Also that year, the first Hazardous Device Technician was trained in handling explosives at the US Army Redstone Arsenal base in Huntsville, Alabama.  That technician worked alone until 1973, when several other officers were also trained at Redstone.

In 1972, the prisoner booking function, still conducted in the police headquarters building, was transferred to Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office personnel.  Sheriff's Office personnel performed the duty at police headquarters until 1979, when the operation was moved to the county jail on Morgan Street at Scott Street.

During 1974, the department established the Internal Affairs Unit to investigate citizen complaints about officers or employees of the department with impartiality and objectivity.

In September of 1975, the department embarked on a new era in community relations and crime prevention by creating the School Resource Officer program.  The program placed officers into middle and high school level institutes to handle problems that occur and present preventative programs to the students and faculty.  The full-time position of police legal advisor was also created that year.  One of the most popular programs among officers was implemented in 1975, as well.  The take-home car program allowed officers to drive their units to and from work.  The philosophies were to reduce maintenance on the cars, eliminate staggered reporting times, free space being used for lockers and promote safety through higher visibility of units in the neighborhoods the officers lived.

1977, saw the creation of the Tactical Response Team or TRT.  The team, known in some cities as SWAT, was designed for response to special threat situations requiring special tactics to reduce the threat to officers, subjects and the community.

The Hostage Negotiation Team was formed in 1979, and combined with the Tactical Response Team.

Another innovation of modern law enforcement came to Tampa in 1980.  The Neighborhood Watch Program was a result of a more nationwide emphasis being placed on crime prevention through public awareness.

In 1981, the Field Instructor program was replaced with the Field Training and Evaluation Program for officer training.  The program was innovative at the time of its inception.  Special training squads were created with officers assigned to them receiving additional instruction in methods of training new officers.  Recruits, fresh out of the academy, were assigned to these squads and received daily training and evaluation for a period of four months before being attached to regular squads.

The same year the department created the Special Anti-Crime Squad or SAC.  The unit would later be called the Street Anti-Crime Squad.  The unit's function was to address street level and special crime problems within the city. Special Purpose Vehicles or SPVS were added to the department's cadre of mobility that year also.  The vehicles, somewhat similar in design to golf carts, were employed to allow the accessibility of foot patrol to the public but not limit the officer's mobility as foot patrol can.  Although the program was initially a trial, it later was adopted and units assigned to the downtown area used them effectively.

In 1982, the department formed its first K-9 unit with five dogs and handlers.  Four of the five were trained in search and track while the fifth dog was trained in both narcotic and explosives detection.  The police Dive Team was organized that same year in August.  They provided the capability for underwater search and recovery to the department on a twenty-four hour basis.

In 1983, the department conducted an experiment in deployment of personnel.  District I used a quad system and District II used a sector system.  The object was to provide better supervision, establish clear chains of command and promote the neighborhood policing concept.  By 1984, both districts adopted the sector system.

Later in 1983, the department's Communication Section underwent a colossal transformation.  The days of calls being handwritten by call takers were over for good at the Tampa Police Department.  A new million dollar plus computer aided dispatch system or C.A.D. replaced the old method and drastically improved the way calls were transferred to dispatch and response by street units.

In response to the increased amount of street level narcotics dealers in Tampa, a unit was developed to address the problem.  The Q.U.A.D. Squads were the answer to the question.  Living up to their name, which stands for Quick Uniformed Attack on Drugs, in late 1989, the city was divided up into four quadrants and these four squads set to work defending the streets of Tampa against the onslaught of drug dealers and buyers.

In 1993, the department implemented the Mobile Dispatch System or MDS.  The system allowed computers to be placed in police cars for direct dispatch without tying up the radio airwaves.  Officers were now capable of running registration and wanted persons checks without communicating to a dispatcher.

1996, saw the creation of a new patrol district with the addition of District III.  A new Mounted Unit for horse patrol was created to address the rising need in congestion during special events and the Ybor City entertainment district of Tampa.  Another major addition was the Firehouse COP program that placed officers working firehouse areas using community oriented policing philosophies.  The officers would respond to neighborhood problems as their primary responsibility and build relationships with the residents to better understand and address their needs.

A major change occurred in 1997, when the Tampa Police Department moved to its new headquarters located at Franklin Street and Madison Street across from city hall.  That location also had historical significance in that the original courthouse had stood on the same location.  Another development enjoyed by officers was the reinstatement of the take home car program, which had been abolished nearly ten years earlier.

In 1998, the transition to decentralization took another large step with officers from district II moving into their new station in North Tampa near Busch Gardens.  Groundbreaking on the District I station began the same year.

District I occupied its new 15,000 square foot facility in 1999.  That year the department's helicopters were equipped with GyroCam camera systems that allowed video downlinking and recording.  This new age technology offered more advance surveillance and officer safety capabilities to the department. 

The Sexual Predator Identification and Notification program was also instituted in 1999, to comply with the Florida Sexual Predator Act.  The program monitors these offenders and tracks them using a sophisticated computer database and is administered by Firehouse officers. 

The decentralization of the Tampa Police Department reached its culmination in the year 2000, with the relocation of the communications section to its new state of the art facility in East Tampa.

In February of 2004, the department conducted a full re-deployment and divided the city into three districts.  Each district was equipped with squads to address street-level narcotics, prostitution, and other target crimes.