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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.