Tampa Police Museum educates its community

TAMPA- There’s no doubt that police officers have a risky job. Saving the lives of others and making sure citizens are safe on a daily basis is an officer’s duty and mission. You can imagine the constant fear that their loved ones may have while they’re out patrolling our streets.

Mother and volunteer, Kathy Belmonte, knows about feeling anxiety as her identical twin sons work for the Tampa Police Department (TPD).  In order to keep her mind off the potential safety concerns Belmonte volunteers at the Tampa Police Museum.

“First of all they’re shocked that it’s free,” said Belmonte, who has been volunteering at the museum on Saturdays for a year. “That’s always a big shock.”

Organized in 1995, the museum holds the history of TPD from as early as the late 1800s. The museum is located on Franklin Street next to the police station in downtown Tampa.

The museum was originally an old courtroom on Tampa Street that contained memorabilia. Lieutenants Robert Pennington and Roberto Batista decided to turn the room into what it is today. There’s much to discover as one walks through the museum for the first time. Visitors can expect to see both an artificial helicopter and a police car. According to Belmonte, kids love taking pictures with both artifacts.

Artifacts are not the only main attraction one can experience. Visitors will be able to “time-capsule” their way and gain insight of TPD, which was formed in 1886.

“What they should expect is to see how police work has evolved throughout the years,” said Paul Mumford, a volunteer and retired TPD officer. “From communications with a telephone, to communications with walkie-talkies and cell phones, and how the generation has gone from the old way of doing police work.”

One of Belmonte’s favorite parts of the museum is the “Andy Wade Memorial.” During his adult years, Wade traveled all over the Midwest to collect original police records of the world’s most notorious criminals. Some of the criminal records you will see include George “Machine Gun” Kelly and his wife Kathryn, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, Harry Pierpont and George “Baby Face” Nelson.

According to the biography attached to his memorial, Wade died in a car crash. His family donated the records he collected to the museum. Some may not know that back in the early 1940s and 1950s, Tampa itself was known to be filled with local gangsters and members of different mafias.

“I love looking at all these old mug shots of famous people,” said Belmonte. “I’m impressed. I feel like every time I’m here, I find something new that I didn’t really notice before.”

Mumford has been volunteering at the museum for two years. The majority of the museum’s volunteers are retired TPD officers. There are parts within the museum where officers donated items to be showcased. Although Mumford has not donated items, you can still see him donating his time every Monday.

“There’s a lot of displays that are from officers,”said Mumford. “There’s a display of badges and patches – those were all police officers that had collections that donated them to the museum so they could be displayed to the people.”

Even though the tour includes many fun facts, the museum is also filled with somber memories of officers who lost their lives on duty. One can sense the love and purpose to serve the community that the fallen officers had for their city. Even though the museum has been open for over 20 years, the goal is to inform and educate more people about the wonderful history of the great men and women who protect us every day.

The Tampa Police Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Incoming police chief plans to build trust with Tampa residents

The City of Tampa Police Department’s mission statement is to reduce crime and enhance the quality of life, through a cooperative partnership with all citizens. Chief Eric Ward plans to do his best during his term to make that happens.

“Back in the sixties and seventies, there was a strained relationship between law enforcement and the community,” said Chief of Police Eric Ward. “So I sought out this profession to make a difference.”

Chief Ward, a 27-year veteran, was appointed in May of this year by Mayor Bob Buckhorn. He was chosen over two other candidates —Mary O’Connor and Brian Dugan— Chief Ward later named the two his assistant chiefs of police. Chief Ward succeeded former Chief Jane Castor after her retirement.

One goal Chief Ward strives for is making a difference. Chief Ward, a Tampa native, stresses that citizen involvement needs to be increased to help reduce crime. He would like to leave the city of Tampa in better shape than it was when he began his tenure.

“It all boils down to when I first started,” said Chief Ward. “I wanted to make a difference and as chief of police I can say that I have that opportunity and I’m doing that now.”

Chief Ward credits his family as a strong support system. He makes it a point to always have his entire family at events.

“I was excited because I knew how much of a hard worker he is,” said Alberta Ward, Chief Ward’s wife. “I thought of the great things he could do for our city that he loves, our city that he cares for.”

Chief Ward continues to advise his officers and the citizens of Tampa to be vigilant. He advises if you see something wrong do what’s right to help the community.

 

Increase in gun-related crime around Tampa makes USF sophomore wary

University of South Florida sophomore Emily Stencil never imagined she would feel unsafe around her own home.

Stencil, who has lived in apartments off campus during both of her years at USF, takes her dog Roxie for a walk every day she comes home from school. She then rides her bike if the sun is shining, and occasionally makes the 5-minute walk to campus.

Now, however, Stencil is beginning to rethink her routine, because of fear for her safety.

“I’ve never been afraid of leaving my doors unlocked or walking my neighborhood alone,” Stencil said. “Now, I’m afraid to leave my house past 8 o’clock.”

***

According to Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, there have been 235 gun-related crimes this year, up from 164 during this time last year.

The increase in crimes also includes 15 homicides — more than double the amount of this time last year.

Gun theft also has drastically increased since last year. According to TPD, 117 guns were stolen this year. That’s 65 more than this time last year.

Most eye-opening of all is that in the 10 days prior to March 23, 10 teenagers died from shootings.

One case involved a 14-year-old male who was shot and killed at a birthday party on March 21. Police estimate that dozens witnessed the crime, but none have come forward with information.

In another case March 14, Tampa teen Ikeim Bowell was killed in what was ruled an accidental shooting by the department.

According to the Tampa Tribune, a group of Bowell’s friends found a gun in a relative’s house they assumed was unloaded. But shortly after they started playing with it, the gun went off and shot Bowell in the neck.

“In the majority of the cases, witnesses and even victims are reluctant to cooperate with detectives,” Castor said in a statement. “The Tampa Police Department is urging citizens to get involved to stop the violence.”

Castor used a March 16 news conference to encourage members of the public to speak up if they have any information.

***

While gun-related crimes have risen in the city, major crimes on USF’s Tampa campus have dropped in the past four years.

According to the USF Police Department, in 2010 the crime rate dropped more than 19 percent from the previous year.

The USF Police Department reports that crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault and burglary have dropped 45 percent, but arrests have increased 52 percent.

USF Police lieutenant Marty King credited the improved efforts of officers for the drop in on-campus crime.

According to a release, more DUI checkpoints were added to areas surrounding campus. Officers also underwent extensive training, and a stronger traffic enforcement has led to the decrease in crimes.

The clearance rate, which is the number of reported cases successfully solved, has increased every year.

“Most importantly is the partnership we have with our community,” King said. “This partnership allows our campus community many options to report suspicious activity or crimes in progress. These efforts, coupled with the crime prevention initiatives we provide, can all play a factor in reducing crime.”

Still, Stencil is worried.

If the crime rate continues to increase, Stencil said she will consider moving on-campus to a dormitory, where she hopes she will be safer.

“It’s not something I want to do,” Stencil said. “But if it can save my life, I’m going to do it.”