Tampa police Chief Jane Castor spoke to Tampa City Council Thursday morning for nearly an hour, discussing the issues concerning the disproportionate number of citations written against black city residents.
An investigation by the Tampa Bay Times brought the situation to light in a story published this past weekend.
The charges have prompted Castor and Mayor Bob Buckhorn to request that the Department of Justice review the department’s performance regarding the citations. As she did at a press conference Wednesday, though, the chief pushed back strongly against the allegations made in the story, saying her department has done nothing wrong.
“One thing I won’t stand for is undue criticism of my officers and our organization, and I vehemently disagree with the allegations that were made this past Sunday in one of our newspapers,” said Castor, who was accompanied by three burly members of the Police Benevolent Association. “Our officers do a good job every day out there with the individuals on the street, making sure that each and every neighborhood is safe.”
Acknowledging that the national perception of the department has taken a thorough beating since the story’s publication, Castor said she has met with advocacy groups to determine whether there’s “something that was missing.”
Although council members commended her for requesting the Justice Department review of TPD’s work, Castor made sure to acknowledge Buckhorn’s role, suggesting it was as much, if not more, his idea as hers.
“One of the things that he and I decided was it would be a good idea. … and maybe there’s something I’m not seeing in my organization,” she said. They called in Ronald L. Davis, who heads the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) of the Department of Justice to perform an independent review of the TPD’s bike enforcement.
“I’m confident that will come out just as we have said: that we are out there, making sure that the laws are enforced fairly, and justly in every single community.”
Castor’s presentation repeated her comments to the media on Wednesday, emphasizing how the department has reduced crime by 70 percent since 2003.
Castor also told council she was not allowed to see the data that Times reporters Alex Zayas and Kameel Stanley gathered, an allegation that Zayas says is inaccurate.
“For the record, @TampaPD never requested @tb_times bike ticket data. Mayor’s office asked for it Monday, and we shared it immediately,” Zayas tweeted Thursday.
Every member of city council addressed Castor, with the exception of Charlie Miranda, who left early.
Mike Suarez was the most pointed, saying some of the stories about black cyclists being cited “give me pause,” referring to what appeared to be the egregious citing of Alphonso Lee King. King was cited for not having a purchase receipt for his bike.
“The thing we can lose sight of is not doing things the right way,” Suarez said before quickly asserting he wasn’t suggesting there was any racial profiling going on.
Castor said the article neglected to mention that King had been previously arrested five times for criminal offenses, nor that he had 41 felony convictions.
What she didn’t say, however, was whether he was committing any offense when he was pulled over by the police. Instead she said, “When stopped, Mr. King said he found that bike.”
“The officer gave him a receipt for that bicycle,” she said. It was posted as “found property” and ultimately given back to him — after 90 days.
Other council members backed off slightly from their published remarks in recent days.
Yolie Capin told Florida Politics two days ago that she was “ashamed” after reading the Times piece, but qualified that for Castor, saying the council dropped the ball:
“I’m ashamed that we, as leaders, did not recognize … that there was this huge issue of education, of safety, and that we’re here and that the bell wasn’t rung earlier.”
“We are quick to jump to conclusions as the public when reading an article,” said Guido Maniscalco, who said on Monday that it seemed the department’s actions seemed “pretty discriminatory.”
Councilwoman Lisa Montelione expressed concerns that TPD officers were under a quota system for issuing out tickets, but Castor said that’s not the case. “We have a very robust productivity monitoring system for the officers for evaluation purposes,” Castor said, saying it actually costs the TPD to enforce any type of traffic activity and denying that citations bring money into the department.
Councilman Frank Reddick represents District 5, which includes some of the most low-income areas/high crime areas in Tampa. He said he received a number of phone calls from constituents on Sunday about the story.
“I just don’t want it to be that just because someone is African-American and is living in a high-crime area … that they stand the risk of being stopped and questioned based on the economic development of the neighborhood they live in,” he said.
The council voted to have city staff report the locations of all the current bike lanes in the city, and what it will take to reinstate a program that partners Tampa police officers with at-risk youth. Both reports are due July 16.