With that, I'd like to present a series of interactions with Tampa police officers this morning that can best be described as highly disappointing.
Today was the 2010 Gasparilla Distance Classic, a marathon that winds through the streets of downtown Tampa. I had a work assignment this morning, to pick up guests staying at a hotel and drive them in a courtesy shuttle to the start point of the race. I arrived at the hotel at 5:00AM and transported one load of passengers (approximately 10 people) from the hotel with no problem. Here's what happened next:
- I drove north on Florida, turned left on Kay, left on Tampa and attempted to access the hotel again from Laurel Street, which is the access point the hotel had been allowed to use in the past. An officer stopped me and said Laurel was closed. I explained to him what I was trying to do and he advised me to try Ashley. I told him Ashley was closed because of the run. He told me it was still open at that point and that the police would let me through.
- I drove south on Tampa and was unable to turn on any streets that would let me cross Ashley due to barricades. No police officers were present to talk to.
- I drove north on Florida again and stopped at the (blocked) entrance to I-275 South and spoke to the officer who was stationed there. I explained my dilemma and asked for assistance. His reply: "I don't know what's going on anywhere else. I'm just responsible for here". This would be the first officer to use the words "not my problem".
- I went back to Laurel Street and talked to the first officer I had spoken to. He called someone on the radio who gave him clearance to allow me to go through.
- When I got to the intersection of Laurel and Doyle Carlton, an officer told me he would let me through, "but once you're inside, you stay inside". I told the officer that inside was a sold-out hotel, where guests would be attempting to come and go, many of whom were participants in the race who were expecting shuttle service. This was was the second one to say the words "not my problem" and advised me to call the Tampa police department.
- I called the Tampa PD non-emergency line and asked to speak to someone coordinating traffic control for the run. I was transferred to an operator who told me to speak to officers on site. I tried to explain I had done that and that I had been told to call. I was then told to stop yelling. There was some back and forth where we argued whether or not I was yelling. Those calls are supposed to be recorded. I would love for a supervisor to listen to the recording and let me know if I was yelling...at least initially. Eventually, after lowering my voice to barely above a whisper and still being interrupted and told to stop yelling I did become frustrated and did indeed yell. It was obvious I was getting nowhere with this person and if I'm going to be accused of something, I might as well earn it. I was hung up on.
- I called back and spoke to a different operator who apologized, saying they had no info and that a supervisor would be in at 6:00AM and that they would ask the supervisor to call the hotel to offer some assistance. In the meantime, I was advised to talk to the officers on site.
- I drove to the corner of McInnes Place and Tyler and spoke to the officer there. He told me to go back to the corner of Laurel and Doyle Carlton and ask them to contact Corporal Atkins (it may have been Adkins).
- I drove back to the corner of Laurel and Doyle Carlton and encountered a different officer who said "I don't know a Corporal Atkins (Adkins) so I don't know how to call them" and that I should call the Tampa PD non-emergency line and ask for assistance. I attempted to explain the situation, including the run-around I was getting and was told "I don't know what to tell you" and "not my problem" for the third time. I was also told "this happens every year, you shouldn't be surprised". When I answered that yes, the race happens every year and streets are blocked off every year, previously an access point, specifically Laurel Street, had been made available, I was told, "things change". These two statements, at least to me, would seem to contradict each other.
- I gave up, parked the van, told guests that I was not allowed to leave the property via Laurel Street (the officers let me pass through in my personal vehicle without even flagging me down to ask me where I was going) and I went home.
I understand police officers have instructions to follow that make things inconvenient for some people in order to maintain control and safety for the benefit of the greater good. And as I stated before, I'm not someone who gets upset with police officers for doing their job, even if I happen to be one of those inconvenienced. What's troubling about this situation is that in addition to following orders, I know that cops are also trained to use their own common sense and discretion when necessary. I suppose it can be argued both ways whether or not that took place here. What can't be argued, and what is truly upsetting and disappointing is the complete lack of cooperation on behalf of so many that I encountered. Keep in mind, I wasn't demanding some sort of immediate action to resolve my personal problem and being refused. I was asking for some kind of help on behalf of several people to resolve a situation and being refused. I was shocked to hear "not my problem" the first time. I couldn't believe I heard it three different times from three different cops. Not your greatest moment, TPD.