While the community has been adjusting to changes caused by COVID-19 there is one other change that may have slipped under the radar. This past April, longtime Oakland Park Captain Al Hubrig retired from Broward Sheriff’s Office and passed the reins of leadership to his successor, Tammy McNeal. The pair succeeded in making the transition seamless as Hubrig had been mentoring McNeal for quite some time. I had the pleasure of chatting with Captain McNeal to learn more about her journey that led her to become the first female Captain of Oakland Park BSO.
Tammy and her 2 brothers grew up in the Coral Shores area, a stone’s throw away from our town. She has fond memories of the area and recalled that the Coral Ridge Theatre in Oakland Park was the place to be when she was 10 years old.
She is alumni at Fort Lauderdale High School and attended Broward College with the intention of pursuing a career in physical therapy so that she could utilize her passion for helping others. During her schooling at Broward, two of her professors noticed she had a knack for law enforcement and encouraged her to apply for department programs that offered paid training. As it so often goes, her experiences and interactions in college forever changed the trajectory of her life and she began to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Tammy did her due diligence and conditioned at the Jogger’s park on 6th Ave in preparation for her entrance testing into the police academy. Her first position was with the city of Plantation as a Community Service Aide for non-emergency calls in 1995 and was promoted to a Road Patrol Police Officer a year later. This introduction to civil service solidified her drive to progress and make this a lifetime career. When asked what she appreciated most about being an officer at the time, she replied: “You’re dealing with some of the best people on their worst days and some of the worst people on their best days.”
In 1999 she moved on to the Broward Sheriff’s Office so that she could pursue more opportunities working undercover and on special units. Over the next 16 years she continued to impress her superiors working in task forces involving major narcotics, organized crime and money laundering. Her time in the POWERTRAC unit and Internal Affairs and Public Corruption gave her a broader perspective of the administrative side of law enforcement. She was proud of her time there and confidently explained: “I kept our badge shining the best that I could with the cases that I got.” While assigned to the city of Tamarac as a Patrol Commander, McNeal became more involved in community relations and helped coordinate the city’s Relay for Life event.
In 2015, McNeal was promoted to the position of Executive Officer in Oakland Park. She said, “Once I got here, it felt like home.” Her role as second in command to Al Hubrig put her on track to be his successor and over the course of the next 5 years, she completed every program and training required to take over the role. She was offered a Captain position in another city but believed in the culture of the Oakland Park district. I couldn’t help but ask about how she could turn down such a big promotion and she simply said “I have bonds to this community and it was more about having job satisfaction and enjoying the people I serve everyday”.
When asked about receiving support from within the department, she spoke kindly of now-retired Sergeant Rick LaCerra. She said having his vote of confidence meant the world to her as Sergeant LaCerra was such a pillar of the community as a career long Oakland Park officer and a resident.
She is carrying on Hubrig’s initiative to have a seamless transition between the retirements of beloved senior officers and the career development of new deputies so the relationship between the community and department remains strong. The mission is to have the next generation of law enforcement officers be the most well trained and best educated as that is what this city deserves.
She said the piece of advice that Al Hubrig gave her that sticks with her every day is “We can’t successfully protect and serve the community if we don’t have buy-in from the city, the residents and businesses.” She went on to explain how trust and close bonds need to be cultivated and preserved between residents, businesses and the department for the community to be at its best.
COVID-19 presented a unique obstacle to fostering those relationships within the neighborhood. During the quarantine most points of interaction between residents and officers like parks, basketball courts, schools and events were closed but the department remained active in supporting local food drives and outreach programs. And since the re-opening the department has been active with the community in an effort to continue nurturing those relationships between its officers and the City’s residents.
Captain McNeal is proud of her involvement in the creation and implementation of the Broward Money Laundering Task Force (MLTA) responsible for the investigation and prosecution of offenders that included asset seizures as a component. Creating an in-house unit allowed the department to take the lead on these seizures, thus granting BSO a larger share of the recovered assets. This achievement has allowed for the Broward Sheriff’s Office to increase the amount of seized funds available to community organizations through their grant program, LETF.
She is proud that the MLTA was successful and even had officers from the federal level sent to aid the team as opposed to the longstanding protocol of a federal department taking the lead on the investigations.
Captain McNeal’s most recent achievement was in June when she graduated from the FBI National Academy. Only about 1% of top law enforcement officers around the world are nominated and invited to attend the 10-week training in Virginia. The academy provides specialized training in various subjects such as behavioral science, forensic science and understanding terrorism and ends with a physical course called “The Yellow Brick Road”. The course was created by Marines to be over 6 miles of obstacles meant to push participants to their limits. She considers it an honor to have been a part of the program.
After learning how Captain McNeal constantly persevered and tackled challenges head on, I asked her what advice she would want to pass on to children who dream of becoming officers. She said: “If you focus on something, you won’t believe what you’ll be able to accomplish. You may not be able to do things the same way everyone else does but if you stick to it you will find a way that works for you to get you where you want to go.” She emphasized how important attitude and tenacity are to success.
Captain McNeal, or Tammy as she prefers being called, lives with her boyfriend of 7 years and cares for her mother in her home. When she is not working, she and her partner can be found outdoors enjoying everything South Florida has to offer. Their current hobbies are riding ATVs and biking but also love jet skiing.
Tammy’s “never quit” attitude is also reflected in her personal life with her German Shepherd, Niko. He was born with a disorder called Mega-esphogus that interfered with his ability to swallow and his vet advised her how unlikely his survival was. Unwilling to accept that, she taught him to eat standing upright so gravity could assist him in the process. Not only did Niko survive but he thrived and is now 11 years old. With age, he’s fallen ill but Tammy is continuing to explore homeopathic remedies that have allowed him to happily live 23 months longer than the 6 month prognosis he was given.
After getting to know Captain McNeal, I am confident in her ability to lead the Oakland Park district of the Broward Sheriff’s office and look forward to seeing our residents, businesses and department forge an even stronger bond in the future.
Christine Chaparro is an Oakland Park native and lives in the neighborhood with her husband and three kids. She is slated to graduate from Florida International University this summer with her Bachelor’s degree in Writing and Rhetoric and hopes to show her children that any obstacle can be overcome with the right attitude and hard work.
When she is not writing or submerged in school work, she is creating memories with her family. She enjoys crafting, building, renovating, gardening and cooking. Competition is big in the Chaparro house whether it be super-soaker fights, pranks or board games. Miami Heat basketball and Florida Panthers hockey are her two favorite teams to cheer on. Her family loves the Oakland Park events and supporting local businesses.