For today’s Daily Critical Issues Report, PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke with two mayors who previously served as their cities’ police chiefs. The mayors discussed the similarities and differences they’ve noticed between the two roles, and advice they’d give any police chief considering running for mayor or other elected office.

Jane Castor served with the Tampa Police Department for 31 years, including as chief from 2009-2015. She was elected mayor of Tampa in 2019.

Jerry Dyer was a member of the Fresno Police Department for 40 years, serving as chief from 2001-2019. He was elected mayor of Fresno in March 2020 and took office in January.


Tampa Mayor Jane Castor

Wexler: Was it hard for you to decide to run for mayor? What was the transition like?

Mayor Castor: It wasn’t a hard decision, but I never really had any ambition to run for political office. The mayor who appointed me chief in 2009 and the mayor at the time I decided to run in 2015 really convinced me to throw my name in the hat. There were many changes in store for the city of Tampa, and I wanted to be a part of that growth.

Mayor and police chief are two unique positions. As the chief of police, you usually grow up in law enforcement in that particular organization, or in another law enforcement organization. And you learn what you need to know about law enforcement as you ascend to the position of chief.

I had the benefit of having worked with the other city departments for 31 years.  But there was still a lot to learn when you come in as mayor, starting with something as simple as all the acronyms that go with all the agencies and infrastructure. There’s a steep learning curve in that process.

I believe being chief of police was a benefit when I came to the mayor’s office. You’re used to dealing with crises and tackling issues head-on. That’s a benefit I derive from law enforcement.

Wexler: As mayor, how do you manage your relationship with the new police chief and the police department?

Mayor Castor: When I was appointed as the chief of police, I told then-mayor Pam Iorio that I had to run the police department, and  that if she didn’t like the way I was running the department, she needed to find a new chief.  I felt that we couldn’t have any kind of division or confusion over who was running the department. And that’s what I’ve done with Chief Brian Dugan. That’s not to say that I haven’t given my opinion about things, but ultimately he is the chief of police.

Wexler: 2020 was an extremely difficult year. What was it like for you?

Mayor Castor: Fortunately, in Tampa we have been developing a collaborative relationship with the community for 15 years.  But that collaboration and relationship-building didn’t necessarily transcend to the younger generation. That’s the issue we saw with the civil unrest.

We brought together individuals from all the activist groups, academics, and anybody else in the community who wanted to be involved with the police department, for listening sessions. We came out with 17 recommendations, and we have a university professor overseeing the implementation of those recommendations.

Ultimately, a community gets the type of police department that they demand. That’s different in every single community. We wanted to ensure that we had that relationship.

I’ve never experienced anything like this particular moment in time during my 61 years. Although it’s painful, I believe we will come out better as a community and as a nation because of it.

Wexler: What have you learned during your tenure as mayor that you wish you had known as police chief?

Mayor Castor: I would say it’s understanding the politics of issues. In law enforcement we tend to look at issues as black and white. There’s a right and there’s a wrong. The nuances of the politics of any particular issue are something that I still struggle with to this day.

Having been a police officer, I think I brought with me the outlook that I’ll take on an issue simply because it’s the right thing to do for the community. But that approach can be a hindrance when it comes to successful implementation. If you haven’t successfully presented the idea or solution to all the different participants, you can have a really great idea that goes nowhere.

Wexler: Have you found either position of police chief or mayor more rewarding than the other?

Mayor Castor: They’re both rewarding in their own respects. One thing that’s frustrating about the position of mayor is that you find out how long it takes to get projects done. When you come from law enforcement, you’re used to getting thrown a set of facts, you make a decision, and you move on to the next issue.  In some other areas of government, the time it takes to get projects off the drawing board to fruition is something I never experienced in law enforcement.

Wexler: What would you tell a police chief who is considering running for mayor?

Mayor Castor: I would encourage anyone who wants to continue serving their community and has service in their heart to go for whatever position, whether it’s mayor, city council, or something else. But you have to understand the differences. There are a lot of politics involved in any elected position.

I feel that I’m in a good position as mayor of our city, because Tampa has a form of government with a strong mayor, and I can seek a second four-year term. I have zero intention of running for any other office or going anyplace outside of this city. I believe that gives me a certain level of freedom to make decisions I believe are right for our community without considering the political impacts.


Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer

Wexler: What is something you’ve had to get used to as mayor, compared to being police chief?

Mayor Dyer: I think the demands on your schedule and attending various meetings are very similar, but I’ve found that you have to use a lot more finesse in order to get things done as the mayor. You have to work with the council to make sure you’re getting the support and votes you need to get things through.

Fortunately, I was elected in March and had a little over nine months to prepare, learn, listen to folks, and get up to speed before I took office.  

Growing up in a police organization, you understand the mission and terminology, and you have relationships established. When things are presented to you, you can challenge the experts internally, because you’ve been there and done that, so you know how to ask the key questions.

When you’re the mayor, it’s a lot more difficult to challenge folks within your organization bringing things to you. You may have minimal knowledge about things like land use, water issues, and complex environmental matters. And these issues are critically important to a community.

Wexler: How do you manage your relationship with your successor as police chief?

Mayor Dyer: So far the transition has gone really well. I don’t get involved with the police department on a day-to-day basis at all. I seldom even speak with Chief Paco Balderrama, because I’m trying to give him the freedom to run his department. I told him that when I hired him. It’s his department, he should make whatever changes he needs to, and he should put his stamp on it. Even when there are media events that have to do with law enforcement and the mayor might normally be present, I’ve tried to keep that distance.

I want to be seen as a mayor who happened to be a police chief, not a police chief trying to be a mayor.

But when the police start talking about strategies and ways to approach certain things, it’s difficult to not intervene and tell them what we’re going to do.

Wexler: Do you need to change your leadership approach at all as mayor?

Mayor Dyer:  I hired a new city manager. When I meet with my city manager and my staff, I have the tendency to operate the way I used to as a police chief, which is giving direction beyond my city manager to the people below. On occasion, I catch myself and try not to do that. When you come from the law enforcement environment, where you made quick, action-oriented decisions, it’s difficult to not do that as a mayor.

I believe that experience as a police chief has allowed me to be much more decisive as a mayor.

Wexler: Are you still using the relationships you developed over the years to help the police department?

Mayor Dyer: I believe the relationships I formed over the years will help the police department, because I can put our new police chief in touch with people, or get things done more expediently based on those relationships. I think that’s been a big help with a new police chief. It may not have been as important with an internal police chief, but with an outside police chief [Chief Balderrama previously served in the Oklahoma City Police Department], those relationships pay off for the police department.

Wexler: Will Fresno be impacted by the relief bill being discussed in Congress?

Mayor Dyer: The rescue plan is critical. I wrote a letter supporting it, and it would have a huge impact in Fresno. Fresno has the second-highest poverty rate in the state of California. We have people who are standing in food lines for the first time in their lives. They’re without a job for the first time. And many are facing eviction. What’s important is that the funding from the federal government get here quickly, so we can offset some of those impacts on our poorer community.

In California, a lot of businesses have been shut down because of the various tiers of restrictions. We have a substantial reduction in sales tax, transient occupancy tax, and business tax, yet our expenses continue to escalate. So it’s been very difficult on our budget.

Absent the rescue plan passing and those dollars coming our way, we will not be able to balance our budget.

Wexler: Does that mean you might have to consider laying off employees?

Mayor Dyer: It could potentially cause us to face layoffs if we’re not able to dip into some of our reserves. We’ve been strategically holding vacancies throughout the city for salary savings. In the event we do have that shortfall that forces us to lay people off, we would not have to lay off as many. But the simple fact is that the vast majority of any city government is the police and fire department budgets. So that’s where the impact is felt most.

We went through that during the recession of 2008 when I was the police chief. In my department alone we laid off 260 employees at that time. Fortunately, we did that through attrition. Today, we’d be faced with a different decision, either laying off police officers or depleting our reserves.  

Wexler: What advice would you give police officials thinking about running for mayor?

Mayor Dyer: I would encourage police chiefs to do it if they have an interest in having greater influence and taking advantage of the experience they gained as a police chief. But they should go in with their eyes wide open, and understand that it’s very different. People are less likely to follow your directions than they do in the police department. It requires you to come up with a different leadership style.

If you have any inclination that you want to have greater influence in your community, take advantage of the opportunity to run for mayor.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.