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Les Miller: Suspend TPD bike policy but confirm new chief

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller said Friday he thinks the Tampa Police Department’s policies on bicycle infractions, which disproportionately singled out blacks in the city, is wrong and should be discontinued until the Justice Department concludes its review of the policy.

However, he doesn’t think it should hold up the confirmation of newly appointed police Chief Eric Ward.

“I do understand what some of the argument is — that a lot of these gangs are riding these bicycles, and that they (the police) are stopping them. But why are you stopping a person because they’re on a bicycle? (Because) They’re black and maybe that’s the only mode of transportation?” he said   to Florida Politics. “That is constitutionally against that persons’ rights. Something has to be done.”

Having said that, he doesn’t support any city council member rejecting  Ward as new chief, as two hinted Thursday they might do should Ward say he won’t stop the controversial policy.

“I have met with him on a number of occasions, talking about some of the shootings and crimes in East and West Tampa,” Miller said. “The man is generally concerned about those things. I think why should give him the opportunity to be chief and try to resolve the ticketing of the blacks on bicycles.”

Speaking to reporters after the news conference where he was introduced to the press and public by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Ward said he will continue the policy under soon-to-be former chief Jane Castor that targets high-crime areas of the city.

“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.”

The ACLU, the NAACP and a host of other groups continue to call for the TPD to discontinue its bike citation policy until the Justice Department completes their review, which is just set to begin and reportedly will take months to conclude. Miller also said he thinks the policy should be suspended until Justice completes its work.

Thursday night in Tampa, there was yet another shooting, this time at the Sunoco on 34th Street North and Hillsborough Avenue. Two people were shot outside of the parking lot, and one was in serous condition late Thursday night.

Miller says black-on- black shootings in Tampa and Hillsborough County are occurring at an exponential rate in 2015 compared with a year ago, and that must remain the focus of the TPD.

“Let’s address that,” he said. “You’ve had more guns stolen this year in four months than all of last year (at least 400 to date). Let’s address those issues also. But let the gentleman be confirmed and let him do his job, but do not issue anymore citations on to blacks riding bicycles, or anyone riding bicycles.”

Written By

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 mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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