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A Black Tampa cop who was beloved by parents, faculty, and students was fired last March for using the N-word while on duty as a resource officer at a local high school.
But now, nearly six months later and after waves of support from the community, local officials voted to reverse the department’s decision.
Earlier this week, Tampa’s Civil Service Board voted that while Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan was within his right to fire officer Delvin White for his use of the N-word, the decision to fire him went too far. The eight-year veteran of the department returned to duty Tuesday morning, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“I do not want to see the city lose an employee like that who obviously does his job above and beyond—a difficult job in, let’s face it, very difficult circumstances,” one of the board members told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
On March 2, Dugan fired White after a random audit of police body-camera footage found that White used the N-word on two separate occasions. In the first instance, he was on the phone with his wife and used the word in reference to students. The second time, he used it during an arrest at Middleton High School, where he’d worked as a student resource officer since 2018. As the student disobeyed White’s orders to put his hands behind his back for handcuffing, the two exchanged words.
“Man, make me, bro. You trippin’, ” the student says.
“I told you, n-----, we ain’t playing games with your ass,” White responds.
“You trippin’,” the student says back.
“N-----, you trippin’,” White responds.
“You don’t know what a n----- be going through,” the student tells White before getting into the patrol vehicle.
At the time, the department said the decision to fire White was in accordance with Tampa’s Personnel Manual.
“Derogatory statements made by police officers jeopardize the trust that our department works to establish with our community,” Chief Dugan said at the time. “Tampa police officers are held to a higher standard, and incidents like this negatively impact the entire law enforcement profession.”
But hundreds of students, faculty, and parents at the mostly Black high school rallied to White’s defense. White’s union filed a formal grievance on his behalf. They all said that White was exceptional at his job, going out of his way to engage with and mentor kids. Even the local NAACP chapter president chimed in to defend White after receiving calls about his sudden termination.
At the time of his termination, a petition started by a student asking the department to reverse its decision had over 7,500 signatures.
“Officer White is a beloved and trusted member of the East Tampa community that he was raised in and that he protected every day,” Danny Alvarez, a spokesperson for the Tampa Police Benevolent Association said at the time.
“Despite his misstep, throughout the investigation, private citizens and other individuals associated with his school contacted the Chief of Police lending their support and reflecting their admiration for his character and contributions.”
White’s reputation for being exceptional at his job, combined with a lack of any noteworthy disciplinary action on his record, helped seal the board’s decision to reinstate him.
White admitted that his use of the N-word was a poor decision, but said that he wasn’t using it as a slur; rather, he was speaking more casually with the Black student to better connect with the student he was arresting. Several teachers and even Alvarez told the department after his termination that White’s use of the word was simply him speaking the language of the community.
Before Monday’s vote, Chief Dugan said that his initial decision had nothing to do with White’s use of the word, only that White used the word around a minor.
“This isn’t about racism, this is about professionalism,” Dugan said, according to the Times. “Officer White isn’t playing golf with his frat brothers, he’s not playing poker, he’s wearing the uniform of a Tampa Police Department officer and speaking to a student that way.”
As of Monday night, the Tampa Police Department hadn’t decided where White will be placed now that he's back with the force, and the department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. However, White knows where he’d like to be.
“I was made to be a Student Resource Officer,” he told local outlets after getting his job back.