Although he’s been on the job for nearly two weeks, Eric Ward didn’t officially become the new Tampa police chief until Thursday morning, when the city council unanimously confirmed his appointment. It came while dozens of his fellow TPD officers crammed into the council’s intimate chambers to part of the occasion.
Ward, 48, grew up in East Tampa and has held virtually every position in the department during the past 26 years. He was an officer for more than a decade before his first promotion, to detective, in 2002. He made sergeant in 2004. Then lieutenant in 2009. He’s also been a commander in the department’s SWAT and bomb teams.
He also spent part of his youth living in public housing.
He succeeds Jane Castor, chief for the past five and a half years, when she generally received wide acclaim for helping to reduce the crime rate after previous chief Stephen Hogue. Her sterling reputation took a significant hit last month after the Tampa Bay Times reported that the TPD issued more than 2,000 bicycle citations in the past three years, more than Orlando, Miami, St. Pete and Jacksonville combined. Eight out of those 10 citations being to black cyclists.
That’s led the city to ask for the U.S. Justice Department to review those policies, something that Ward said again Thursday that he welcomes.
But Ward, like Castor before him, has refused the entreaties by groups such as the ACLU to halt the bike citation policy until the DOJ completes that review.
“We want a full investigation as to whether racial profiling has occurred, or civil violations have occurred,” said the ACLU’s Joyce Hamilton Henry Thursday morning. Like other advocates, the ACLU is unhappy that it’s the Justice Department’s COPS program that is doing the review of the TPD, calling for a more thorough review of the entire department’s practices, as the DOJ did in Ferguson, Mo., and is conducting in Baltimore.
Hamilton Henry also referenced not only the Times report, but also a recent Channel 10 story that determined that 54 percent of all TPD arrests in 2013 were of black men and women, though blacks make up just 26 percent of the city’s population.
“We are concerned about this cloud over the city’s head,” Hamilton Henry said, adding that the ACLU looks forward to working with Ward on the issue.
West Tampa resident Joe Robinson agreed with Hamilton Henry, saying that a Justice Department review of patterns and practices as is being done in Baltimore is “the only review that counts.” He said that the word on the street in West Tampa is that the bike citations of black cyclists has “slowed down,” in recent weeks.
Robinson also said that he hopes that the new chief can help bring PAL football back to West Tampa.
The Rev. Russell Meyer from St. Paul Lutheran Church in Seminole Heights said the selection of Ward as new chief turns a page in the city. He urged Ward to make Tampa Police Department arrest statistics available for the public’s consumption.