Marvin Tarver | City of Lakeland

When Lakeland Police Captain Marvin Tarver, 52, was growing up in Bartow, he remembers turning on the television on Saturday mornings and watching the cartoon “Super Friends,” which featured a group of superheros who fought for “truth, justice and the American way.”

“Watching the different superheroes on television, I kind of saw policing, our police officers, as heroes,” Tarver said in an interview with LkldNow. “And so that was just like one of the things that really caught my attention … I think I’ve always wanted people to feel secure and safe, you know, in the environments that they live in. Policing gave me the ability to do that.”

In addition, he said he had a childhood neighbor who worked in law enforcement and he remembers the man coming home from work in the evenings, pulling his police cruiser into the driveway and getting out in his uniform.

“Just watching him, knowing he was a police officer, I think that also gave me some motivation as well,” said Tarver, who has served in law enforcement for more than 30 years.

On Dec. 4, Tarver will step into his new role as one of three assistant chiefs of police at the Lakeland Police Department. Tarver will command the Neighborhood Services Bureau, which includes the uniform patrol division.

“Lakeland is a great place to work, even from day one. I’ve really, really enjoyed working with the city of Lakeland — friendly people in Lakeland,” Tarver said. “I’m always just impressed with the trust, transparency of the city and, you know, our government, our local government, commissioners and the mayor and everyone that that works to make Lakeland a better place to live.”

Current Assistant Police Chief Sammy Taylor, whose promotion to chief takes effect next week, called his longtime colleague an outstanding and experienced leader.

Marvin Tarver

Along with Tarver, other promotions take place Dec. 4:

  • Lt. Cheryl Kimball to captain
  • Sgts. Joe Parker and Brian Wallace to lieutenant
  • Officers Cory Bowling and Alex Zungul to sergeant.

“He has proven himself throughout his career, whether serving in or commanding a wide range of divisions across the agency,” Taylor said.  “Along with high academic achievements, Marvin also has a servant’s heart, always striving to build upon relationships we are fortunate to have within the community we serve.  I know he will continue to do great things for our agency and for the city of Lakeland.”

Tarver began his law enforcement career with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in 1991. Shortly afterward, he became dual certified and accepted a police officer’s position with the Auburndale Police Department in 1993. He worked as a community-oriented police officer, practicing community policing in various neighborhoods and later as a school resource officer.

In 1996, He made the switch to Lakeland Police, for which he has served as a uniform patrol officer, community-oriented police officer, street crimes officer, special investigations detective, criminal investigations detective, critical incident peer support member, and tactical entry operator and sniper on the Special Weapons and Tactics Team.

In addition to patrolling Lakeland’s streets, Tarver has also hit the books. He holds an associate arts degree in liberal arts and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Polk State College, and a master’s degree from Saint Leo University. He is a graduate of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Florida Criminal Justice Executive Institute, Senior Leadership Program; the Southern Police Institute, Administrative Officer’s Course; and the Florida Police Chief’s Association Future Chiefs Program.

Career progression

  • 1991: Polk County deputy sheriff
  • 1993: Auburndale police officer
  • 1996: Lakeland police officer
  • 2010: LPD sergeant
  • 2013: LPD lieutenant
  • 2019: LPD captain
  • 2022: LPD assistant chief

Over the years, Tarver has worked his way up in rank. In 2010, he was promoted to sergeant and supervised officers in the Uniform Patrol Division. He was later assigned to the Special Investigations Division, where he supervised the Community Response Team, a covert, plain-clothes unit that uses “tactical problem-solving techniques to address criminal activity” in Lakeland’s residential neighborhoods and business districts.

In 2013, he was promoted to lieutenant and oversaw the Uniform Patrol Division’s Alpha Squad and then the Special Investigations Section, which is primarily responsible for the detection and apprehension of drug dealers.

In 2019, he earned the rank of captain, directing the daily operations of the Uniform Patrol Division, which consisted of about 130 sworn and civilian personnel. Two years ago, Tarver was assigned to the Support Services Division, directing, planning, and coordinating the training unit, hiring and recruiting, records, communications, and property and evidence.

Since June 2021, Tarver has commanded the Community Services Division, which encompasses the Police Athletic League, the school resource officer unit, the Community Services Unit, and Victim’s Assistance Unit.

He currently serves as the president of the Police Athletic League of Lakeland Inc., and is chairman of the Community Engagement Taskforce (formerly the Mayor’s Gang Task Force). He is a member of the Polk County Police Chief’s Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Tarver is also a current participant in Leadership Lakeland Class XXXIX.

His work has earned him multiple awards over the years. Tarver participated on LPD’s first SWAT Roundup Team, which won the International SWAT Roundup Competition held in Orlando. He has also earned the Distinguished Performance Award, the Meritorious Service Award, the President’s Roundtable Police Officer of the Year Award and the Chief’s Award.

He has been married for 26 years.  He and his wife have four children.

Tarver is the highest ranking Black officer at Lakeland Police.  In the last several years, the nation has convulsed as it grapples with video-taped police-involved shootings of Black men, the Black Lives Matter movement, and a push to defund police departments or shift funding from police to mental health services.

Tarver said he hasn’t heard a call for that here and he believes all of Lakeland’s residents understand that LPD is an integral part of this community, one that ties people together. He points to the Police Athletic League’s work with young people, to help them in sports, academics and citizenship.

“What we do to grow those relationships with our young people and services we provide to them, you know, I think it really makes a difference,” Tarver said. “Not just reaching the young people, but reaching our parents. And, you know, the police, I believe we have become a part of the community. And we understand that a lot of the resources that we use, the funding, actually goes back into the community to help the community.”

He also pointed to the Community Services Division and the officers who work directly with homeowners associations and neighborhood groups.

lakeland police department

“We have our neighborhood liaison officers in Community Services Division (who) directly work with the communities as well, attending meetings and building these relationships with various communities in the city,” Tarver said. “And not just building relationships, we actually try to find out what are the problems, the problems in their communities. And what can we do as a police department to help solve those problems so that they feel better about where they live, and they still feel safe in the communities that they live in.”

Tarver said he has worked with Jarvis Washington, head of Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk, which broke away from the umbrella of the national organization, to work through any issues the group has. One main issue in recent years has been a push for law enforcement to use body cameras.

An LPD fatal shooting of 17-year-old Michael Jerome Taylor, a black driver, at Salem’s Gyros and Subs at Memorial Boulevard and Florida Avenue in December 2018 renewed a push for body cameras by Polk County law enforcement agencies.  The State Attorney’s Office investigated and found the officers’ shooting justified. Earlier that same year, two short videos were posted to social media, appearing to show two Lakeland police officers violently beating a trespassing suspect underneath an I-4 overpass. The videos went viral and garnered criticism of LPD. An investigation ruled the officers were within their rights.

A 2020 Black Lives Matter protest following the killing of George Floyd was hijacked by several protesters from Auburndale.  The young men spurred marchers to move from Munn Park to LPD headquarters, then eventually to the corner of Florida Avenue and Memorial Boulevard. The crowd swarmed and badly damaged a car driven by someone who was headed to the protest after he accidentally hit a woman. LPD had to use tear gas thrown from an armored vehicle to disburse the crowd.

While Sheriff Grady Judd continues to push back on outfitting his deputies with cameras, the Lakeland City Commission in the last year voted for its officers to use cameras. The cameras have arrived, but officers have yet to begin using them because related equipment is still needed.

Tarver joins two other assistant police chiefs: Hans Lehman and Steve Pacheco.

Tarver will be promoted at an official ceremony on Dec. 2 at 4 p.m. at the Lake Mirror Center, the same ceremony at which Taylor will be sworn in as the city’s new police chief.

Other promotions that will take place that day: Lieutenant Cheryl Kimball will be made a captain; Sgts. Joe Parker and Brian Wallace will be promoted to lieutenant, and Officers Cory Bowling and Alex Zungul will be promoted to sergeant. The public is invited to attend.

SEND FEEDBACK, corrections or news tips: newstips@lkldnow.com

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Kimberly C. Moore

Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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