New Tampa police chief says he’ll keep bike citation policy

ward tampa chief

Newly tapped Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward said Thursday during his introduction to the city that black bicyclists have “absolutely not” been unfairly targeted by the department that he’ll take over next week.

Activists have said they want a time-out on the bike citations, but when asked by a reporter about the issue Ward didn’t sound like he’s keen on that.

“We don’t see any issues with our current process, and basically we’re enforcing our violations throughout the city,” he said. ”We’ll wait on the evaluation. If they find any discrepancies, we’ll act on that immediately.”

A recent Tampa Bay Times story showed that 79 percent of bike citations have been written against blacks during the past three years. That led current police Chief Jane Castor and Mayor Bob Buckhorn to request that the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the policy.

Also on Thursday,the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services said it will offer Critical Response for Technical Assistance to the TPD for an analysis of its stop and ticketing data, including bicycle law enforcement. The goal is to identify whether racial disparities exist in the department’s stops and issuance of tickets, determine the reason behind any disparities, and provide recommendations to address such.

At his introduction, Ward said, ”We’ll wait on the evaluation. If they find any discrepancies, we’ll act on that immediately.”

Castor, retiring next week after 31 years on the force with the last five and a half as police chief, has vociferously defended her department since the Times story’s publication.

Ward becomes the second black chief in the city’s history. Bennie Holder, chief from 1993 to 2003, was the first. Ward is assistant chief of operations, and was announced months ago as one of the three finalists for the job. The other two were Mary O’Connor and Brian Dugan, both of whom received promotions Thursday as well. O’Connor was named assistant chief of operations, while Dugan is now assistant chief of special support and investigations.

The 48-year-old Ward has had a meteoric rise in recent years. He helped engineer security for the Republican National Convention three years ago, and was promoted to deputy chief a year later. Last fall he was promoted to assistant chief, taking the place of John Bennett, who retired in January.

In his public comments, Ward said he there are three areas he wants to emphasize. One is to increase outreach programs, specifically more Resources in Community Hope houses, as well as develop Police Athletic League programs.

A R.I.C.H. house offers children tutoring, homework assistance, summer camp and holiday parties, and a food pantry for needy families.

His second goal is to continue to fight violence. He said says he wants to assemble task forces in each district to get to the “root of the issue.”

Lastly, he wants to retrain officers. He said that element has been missing in the TPD since the recession hit, but something he wants to revive.

Of the DOJ analysis, Ward said, “It’s something that we welcome. We don’t think our practices are bad.”

Ward said he welcomes the use of body camera, but said it’s quite expensive. “We have 1,000 officers in our agency, so we need to take it slow.”

The department currently is in the midst of a year-long evaluation.

Ward is an East Tampa native. He graduated from Hillsborough High School, and holds a criminal justice degree from Saint Leo University. He’s married, has two children and lives in West Tampa.

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected].


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