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The Long Arm of the Law

Tampa police chief suspended after flashing badge to get out of golf-cart traffic stop

December 05, 2022

No one is above the law. Not the rich. Not the powerful. Not even the law itself. It comes for everyone all the same, at least in theory. It doesn’t always (or even usually) work that way, but justice prevailed this weekend when Tampa police chief Mary O’Connor was placed on administrative leave after body cam footage caught her flashing her badge to a fellow officer to get out of a traffic stop while operating a golf cart without a license plate on a public road. Here’s how it went down.

According to the driver of the cart, her spouse, the couple had driven over to their club for food, but it was closed, so they took the cart around the corner to another spot. On the way back, they were pulled over. When O’Connor saw that the officer meant business, she asked if his body camera was on. The officer replied that it was. At that point, O’Connor pulled out her badge and revealed herself to be the chief of the Tampa police department, saying, “I’m hoping you’ll just let us go tonight.” When the officer complied, she handed him her business card, adding, “If you ever need anything, call me. Serious.”

“It was poor judgment on our part to be driving a golf cart on a public roadway without the appropriate tags,” O’Connor later said. “This was the first time we had exited the golf-cart friendly community in which we own property with this vehicle, prompting the need for a license plate.”

“In hindsight, I realize how my handling of this matter could be viewed as inappropriate, but that was certainly not my intent. I knew my conversation was on video, and my motive was not to put the deputy in an uncomfortable position. I have personally called the Pinellas County Sheriff offering to pay for any potential citation,” she added.

Tampa’s mayor Jane Castor didn’t see things quite the same way, however, saying, “We hold everyone accountable, no matter their position, and this behavior was unacceptable. Chief O’Connor will go through the due process and face appropriate discipline.”

While O’Connor’s days of joyriding around town in her golf cart may be over, her future as Tampa police chief rides on the outcome of an ongoing investigation into the incident. This time, she may want to keep that badge in her pocket ...

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