Employee Spotlight: Teri Uno, TIAPD Captain of Special Operations
After 30 years, Captain Uno says she never imagined how far the Airport’s police department would come.
As head of special operations for the Tampa International Airport Police Department, Captain Teri Uno has seen plenty of change.
The agency where she has spent her entire law enforcement career is nationally accredited and generally regarded as one of the best airport law enforcement agencies in America.
“This Department is respected by its peers and we’re considered a leader in aviation law enforcement,” said Captain Uno.
But it wasn’t always that way. She recalls back to her first years on the job when enforcing the law was “a little less desired” by the Aviation Authority.
“We didn’t enjoy the support we do now as police officers. We just more or less directed traffic,” recalls Uno. “We had a security guard mentality when I first got hired here.”
Assigned to the traffic team, as a young rookie cop she was dispatched to a reported rear end crash where a young couple’s car was hit from behind by a driver not paying attention.
“Rear ending someone is a good way to get a ticket and back then I was gung-ho,” she said.
As a new employee Uno didn’t immediately recognize the man at fault in the crash, but by the time she called in his name and license plate number over the radio, her Corporal and every available officer was rushing to the crash scene.
The driver was George Bean—the Airport’s then-Executive Director.
“That man loved his airport, and he was looking up at a Continental jet as it passed over taxiway Juliet,” recalls Uno. “He was just looking up and rammed into the back of the couple’s car. “I was like, 'You shouldn’t have hit those people from behind.’”
But before she could even consider writing a ticket, Bean was scooped up and taken away while Officer Uno was left to finish up her report.
“Back then, we handwrote everything. I was just happy nobody was hurt.”
It was just the beginning of her career now going on 30 years working at the Airport.
Among her favorite assignments over the years, were the details working alongside U.S. Secret Service to protect multiple U.S. Presidents.
“My first was the original, George H.W. Bush,” said Uno. President Bush was campaigning in Tampa in his run against challenger Bill Clinton.
“As a swing state, it gets pretty hectic toward November of an election year. That’s one thing that’s not changed in 30 years,” said Uno.
“I've worked the Al Gore, John Kerry and George W. Bush details. They've all come through here.”
In one of her favorite photos, Uno can be seen standing atop the steps of the old Air Force 2 during a Tampa from Vice President Al Gore.
“Air Force 2 was the original Air Force One under the Kennedy Administration, so it had artifacts from the old Air Force One. There were some of Kennedy’s items and items belonging to Johnson and since I was a history buff, that was really up my alley,” Uno said of her exciting assignments. “You just want to do the job correctly and learn at the same time. Every experience is a learning experience.”
Over the years she’s had the opportunity to rub elbows with other celebrities working the Lightning Stanley Cup Championship and multiple Super Bowl team arrivals into TPA.
But her career wasn’t all glitz and glamour working at the airport. Before being named Captain of the Special Operations Unit, she spent much of her career working property thefts and investigating stolen rental cars.
But when it comes to personal accomplishments, Uno likes to give credit to her follow officers instead.
“It’s about everyone who has worked with me. We’re all a team here. Everything I’ve done and succeeded at – it was a team effort. I’m blessed to work with the people I work with.”
It was one of those co-workers, Cpl. Walter Scoville, who noticed Uno’s hard work and decided she needed a life outside of work.
Scoville had come to the Airport from the Tampa Police Department and decided to set Teri up on a blind date with one of his friends from the Tampa Police Department.
“He saw me work all the time and he felt I needed ‘a somebody.’ I wasn’t really looking to have ‘a somebody’ but he pushed it.”
Within a year the two were married and Uno gives Scoville, who has since retired, all the credit.
“He’s an incredible matchmaker, I’ll tell you that.”
Outside of work Teri enjoys her three dachshunds (she says she’s tried to convince the K-9 team to bring on some dachshunds without success), trying out Mexican and Italian restaurants and most of all, travel.
She and her husband visited Boston last year for her birthday and in 2012 made a trip to Ireland.
The next stop might be Scotland.
“I just gotta go," she said. "That’s my ancestry.”
Also on the bucket list: visiting the Far East. In fact, a nighttime photograph of the Hong Kong skyline hangs on the wall behind Uno’s desk.
“I want to stay a couple weeks there if I go,” said Uno, adding she and her husband also dream of one day visiting Japan.
Those trips may have to wait until retirement, but for now, Uno shows no signs of slowing down.
She’s looking forward to the Airport Police Department’s big move to their new home along the Blue Curbside, the first time she'll get to work in an office space specifically designed for police.
“This will be my fourth station," she said. "If you would have told me back in ’92 we were going to be in a brand-new station with a sallyport, I would have laughed at you.”
“[For the Aviation Authority] to design it from scratch shows our opinions are valued. It will be my last station no doubt, but it will be my very best station I’ve ever been a part of.”
Uno credits former Chief Paul Sireci for helping to bring a new level of professionalism and pride to the Airport Police Department.
“Now with Chief Charlie Vazquez, we’re in the stratosphere of professionalism. I never thought I’d see the changes I see now”
It all comes with a continued sense of pride, professionalism among officers caring for each other.
“[Chief Vazquez] really cares about people,” she said holding back tears. She specifically recalls the amazing support she received from the Chief and others when she went through the difficult process of moving her 87-year-old mother into her home.
“We take care of each other. People really are our biggest asset.”
It’s part of the reason Uno says she still enjoys putting on the uniform and coming to work day after day.
“To have the people who surround me every day … working with them makes everything exciting.”