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Fla. PD chief to retire, be rehired with a double-digit raise the next day

The maneuver will allow Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw to collect his annual pension payment worth at least $96,000 while receiving an annual salary of $241,000


Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw hands out beads to paradegoers during the Children’s Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard in January.

Jefferee Woo/TNS

By Olivia George
Tampa Bay Times

TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw will retire this September. The day after, the city will rehire him with a double-digit raise, according to a three-year contract unanimously approved by the Tampa City Council on Thursday.

Community members, law enforcement representatives and elected officials have heaped praise on Bercaw, a 28-year veteran with the force, as a source of stability for Florida’s second-largest police department — which has weathered tumult in recent years.

The police department “needs his consistency and presence now and so does Tampa,” Hillsborough Republican state Rep. Danny Alvarez wrote in a letter to the City Council supporting Bercaw’s new contract. “The last thing you need is another change when you have the answer you are looking for in uniform and working already.”

The maneuver allows Bercaw to collect his annual pension payment worth at least $96,000 while receiving an annual salary of $241,000. It stirred some controversy and confusion when first proposed by Mayor Jane Castor’s administration last month.

They pumped the brakes, withdrawing the agreement about 12 hours before it was set to go before the City Council.

Castor, herself is a former Tampa police chief who has known Bercaw for decades, previously said she stands “firmly in support” of him remaining in his role.

“All of us working together is what makes a difference,” Bercaw told the City Council on Thursday, adding that the support was “truly overwhelming.”

Under the agreement, he will receive benefits such as annual leave, health insurance and sick pay. He will also be entitled to pay bumps associated with annual performance reviews and for cost-of-living increases applicable to other city management employees.

He will continue to run the city’s department of roughly 1,000 sworn officers until at least September 2027. Unless terminated, the agreement will automatically renew for successive terms of one year for a maximum of four additional years.

“This is something that was obviously earned,” City Council member Luis Viera said Thursday. He called the agreement “a no-brainer” and emphasized the need for stability for Tampa Police Department employees.

“These folks have taken a lot of hits over the last few years,” he said, pointing to the fact that the department has seen four chiefs in three years. “They don’t need a fifth.”

Bercaw started as a reserve officer in 1996 and went on to work in all three of the department’s patrol districts. He has a doctorate in criminal justice from Saint Leo University. He became interim chief in December 2022 following the departure of Mary O’Connor, who resigned at the mayor’s request after just 10 months on the job.

An internal investigation found O’Connor violated department policies by flashing her badge during a traffic stop while riding in a golf cart in Pinellas, asking a deputy to let her and her husband go. The incident made national headlines.

The City Council unanimously voted to make Bercaw the permanent chief last June, praising him for garnering support from the community and rank-and-file officers alike.

When “interim” was dropped from his chief title, his salary was bumped to $198,702. He currently earns $204,672, according to the city’s human resources department. Under the agreement that passed Thursday, his salary will be boosted another $36,328 — more than a 17% raise.

The bump brings Bercaw’s compensation more in line with peer cities, city attorney Andrea Zelman wrote in a memo to City Council. His current salary is “well below the current average salary for similar size cities in Florida,” she wrote.

The chief in St. Petersburg makes $227,510. Orlando’s chief makes $236,250 and Miami’s $273,000.

“Additionally, retaining Lee Bercaw as Police Chief allows the City to avoid the time and expense involved in a search for a new police chief,” Zelman wrote.

Bercaw’s retirement date was set in stone because he enrolled in the Deferred Retirement Option Program. Commonly known as DROP, the program allows employees to divert pension payments before they retire toward a lump-sum payment they get when they leave. When he enrolled in 2019, he picked his retirement date as Sept. 22, 2024.

Under the newly-approved agreement, the city will not contribute to his pension on his behalf.

Bercaw lives in Pasco County. On Thursday, the council issued him another one-year waiver from a rule requiring department leaders to live within city limits, though he plans to move to Tampa this summer.

“His stability, honorable leadership, and accountability should continue for the good of our city,” Hillsborough State Attorney Suzy Lopez wrote in a letter supporting Bercaw continuing as chief. “As we face issues ranging from gun violence to supporting crime victims, Chief Bercaw is the partner we need and a proven law enforcement leader.”

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