Two years ago, officials at California State University-Fullerton produced a comprehensive report on police civilian oversight boards. Among their findings was that obstacles to creating a successful agency included politicians who have a “law and order” agenda not conducive to oversight. Plus, if such a board is created, the power that lawmakers have to limit their oversight is through legislation or budgets.
That’s among the institutional barriers that Tampa residents calling for such a board may face when they make their case to the City Council on Thursday about a proposal introduced by Council Chair Frank Reddick.
Although he’s previously opposed such boards, Mayor Bob Buckhorn now says he’s amenable to such a proposal, telling the Tampa Bay Times’ Sue Carlton in Wednesday’s editions, “I’m open to it.”
Reddick says the time is right, and he thinks that’s why the mayor is coming around on the issue.
“These boards are being established all across the country,” Reddick said Wednesday. “They’re not there to micromanage the police department. What we want to do here in Tampa is just to have accountability and transparency for the community. Most of the crime that’s taking place in the community is taking place in my district. And most of the people are calling for a review board.”
It has been years since there’s been much of a clamor for such a panel in Tampa, but that changed after the Tampa Bay Times’ report in April that the Tampa Police Department disproportionately cited blacks for bicycle infractions. That report ultimately led the city and the police department to call in the the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) this summer.
Former Police Chief Jane Castor disputed the premise of the story, but acknowledged that the statistics the Times unearthed are “troubling.” Mayor Buckhorn has stood steadfast behind the department, saying that “allegations of racial profiling create an emotionally charged discussion within the community, but so does crime.”
The TPD has refused to stop their activities when it comes to citing cyclists, despite pleas from the NAACP, the ACLU and other groups to do so.
One-hundred local cities and counties across the country have such civilian review boards, nine in Florida. Those are in St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Miami, Key West, Orlando, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, Orange County and Miami-Dade County.
“We cannot change the findings, but we can make recommendations,” said Lendel Bright, coordinator with the Civilian Police Review Committee in St. Petersburg.
That board is a nine-member, multiracial volunteer group appointed by the mayor. Just two city employees are involved: Lendel, who also works with two other departments in the city, and a staff aide.
Lendl said that if the review committee disagrees with the police on an issue, it states the reasons and then can make recommendations to change the department’s policies or procedures. The mayor first vets the recommendations and then the police chief. Both must agree with the changes for them to go into effect.
There have traditionally been four types of civilian review boards.
- Type 1: Residents investigate allegations of police misconduct and recommend findings to the chief or sheriff.
- Type 2: Police officers investigate allegations and develop findings; civilians review and recommend that the chief or sheriff approve or reject the findings.
- Type 3: Complainants may appeal findings established by the police or sheriff’s department to a civilian board. Members review them and then recommend their findings to the chief or sheriff.
- Type 4: An auditor investigates the process the police or sheriff’s department uses to accept and investigate complaints, and then reports on the thoroughness and fairness of the process to the department and the public.
Some agencies have subpoena power: St. Petersburg’s does not.
At Saturday’s town hall meeting in East Tampa regarding the black community’s relations with the TPD and Buckhorn, one of the solutions the group of residents agreed upon was to lobby the City Council for a citizens review board.
“If the community holds to the energy from the discussion and transfers it to the City Council, you should see a pretty good swelling of numbers there who came to the meeting,” said Kurt Young, moderator for last week’s meeting.
Laila Abdelaziz with CAIR Florida says of Thursday’s meeting, “We’re packing the room big time.”
City Councilman Guido Maniscalco said he’s bringing an open mind to the issue, looking forward to hearing what both Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward and the public have to say on the issue. “I haven’t had any emails for or against it,” he said.