Chief Jane Castor's Statement regarding the death of Javon Neal

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For photograph of Neal just before the shooting, please visit TPD's Facebook page

The men and women of the Tampa Police Department enter the profession of law enforcement to serve our community. We take an oath to preserve life and protect property, swearing to keep our citizens and community safe. In cooperation with all citizens, we have made great strides in making Tampa a much safer city. However, if you have been a victim of crime, then our crime reduction statistics are meaningless numbers. Therein lies the reason that our officers come to work every day – to protect our community and reduce the number of citizens who may become victims of crime.
There are few things more devastating to an officer than to be forced to take someone’s life. As stated, we enter this profession to help others. Deadly force is a last resort and is used only when the life of a citizen or an officer is in imminent danger.
It is a tragedy that Javon Neal, a 16 year old, would be armed with such a dangerous weapon as an assault style shotgun. A life was lost and many more negatively affected. As a mother, I can’t imagine losing a child. Those who witnessed the event were deeply impacted, as were my officers, who are committed to preserving life. Everyone loses in this situation.
There are too many guns on the streets of our community, many of them in the hands of juveniles. Although homicides have been reduced dramatically in our city, from a high of 79 in 1986 to a low of 20 in 2009, there are still an inordinate number of homicides that involve black on black crime. And far too many involve the death of a young man. Every life is valuable; none more than another and we, as a community, need to be concerned.
Through the years we have seen too much crime involving our younger generation. For some months now I have been meeting and speaking with community leaders concerning this alarming trend. It is my firm belief that most of our youth are positive, well-intentioned, good kids. In some instances they lack direction, or are influenced by that small group that is bent on violence and disruption. The question then is – what can we do as a community to provide guidance, a positive example, and constructive activities to this future generation?
Some of the actions taken to date include mentoring programs, scholarships to the Police Athletic League, a week-long Leadership Camp at the RICH House in Sulphur Springs, and a summer youth night basketball league at the YET Center in East Tampa. These programs are not the sole action of the City of Tampa, but a cooperative effort of community members and government working together. Constructive activities, such as listed, will undoubtedly touch young lives in a positive and formative way. I applaud all of our community partners who are taking the lead in helping our children. But the sad fact remains, it is not enough. We need more citizens and community leaders to join in the efforts to help our children and provide positive and inspiring role models for them.
Just last week, Tonya Lewis and Mr. and Mrs. Young from Project SAW (Show Another Way) put on a faith based youth event in Riverfront Park. Providing the keynote address was the first African American Astronaut, Colonel Benjamin Alvin Drew, Jr. He delivered a wonderfully inspirational speech about being able to achieve anything you wish, as long as you were willing to work hard. Unfortunately, there weren’t many children there to hear this speech. Despite the low attendance, the event was a success. There were a number of community leaders in attendance, those individuals who are working to make a difference - those who choose positive action over negative rhetoric. Conspicuously absent were most of those individuals who have identified themselves as ‘community activists’ over the past few days; spewing misinformation and trying to create a wedge between the community and their police officers. The most damaging aspect of these recent actions is the impact they may have on our impressionable youth, the very ones we as a community are trying to show a better way.
As I stated to Javon’s mother the night of the incident, I am sorry for his death. The loss of a young life, and so unnecessarily, is a sad commentary on our whole community. I do not, and will not, apologize for the actions of my officers. In fact I stand firmly in support, knowing that if not for their quick reaction to this dangerous threat, they may not have gone home to their families. I can ask my officers to lay down their lives for the good in our community; I cannot and will not do so for those who are breaking the law.

Jane Castor
Chief of Police
Tampa Police Department