David Straz says Jane Castor lied about crime rates, fails to provide proof
Joel Shults (left), a consultant David Straz's campaign hired to corroborate claims against Jane Castor, says the campaign has not paid him.

Janelle Irwin TaylorApril 2, 201910min
David Straz
His campaign told reporters it was up to the Castor campaign to disprove its allegations.

Tampa mayoral candidate David Straz is accusing his opponent, Jane Castor, of manipulating crime reporting data to make it look as if crime in the city declined more than it had during her tenure as Tampa Police Chief from 2009 to 2015.

Castor has been touting a 70 percent overall crime reduction in the city using crime data stemming back to 2002 before she was chief.

The claims against Castor are largely unsubstantiated.

The Straz campaign offered testimony from just one former Tampa Police officer, Gary Pruitt. During a press conference Tuesday, Pruitt claimed he was told on several different occasions that certain crime reports were either downgraded to lower-level incidents or were reported in conjunction with other similar incidents that occurred around the same time within a similar geographic area.

The Straz campaign offered no other data to support its claim and Pruitt was unable to provide specific dates or documentation to back up his own allegations.

They told reporters it was up to the Castor campaign to disprove its allegations and pointed to a 20-page report they compiled. But that report lacked any substantive data to support the campaign’s claims and instead consisted mostly of previous media reports from local outlets including Florida Politics.

Instead, the campaign hired an outside law enforcement consultant, Joel Shults, to corroborate Pruitt’s claims. Shults is a former police executive turned criminal justice professor who also offers commentary on the Police One blog serving the law enforcement community.

“That doesn’t seem quite right because it’s a large number,” Shults said of the 70 percent reduction in crime.

The Straz campaign paid Shults $5,000 for his analysis.

Shults said he found Pruitt’s claim credible citing crime reporting methods employed under the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting standards.

Shults said he did not analyze any specific data from the Tampa Police Department. He also acknowledged that if the department did consolidate certain offenses it was not against the Uniform Crime Reporting rules.

“Gary’s account of how that process changed and what was happening in the kitchen … makes all the sense in the world and that’s a very credible statement,” Shults said.

Pruitt claimed that at some point the Tampa Police Department changed its crime reporting policy to count multiple incidents as one. For example, he said, a series of auto burglaries occurring on the same block might have six different victims but would have been counted as just one crime. He also said some reports, again using the auto burglary example, were later downgraded to lower-level crimes like trespassing by administrative staff.

Again, Pruitt offered no other evidence other than his personal testimony and he couldn’t say when the reporting change happened. He estimated it was in the early to mid-2000s before Castor was chief.

Asked why such serious allegations of misreporting crime data have not been previously reported, Pruitt suggested that perhaps officers were afraid to come forward.

Law enforcement officers that are still currently there are on the line, meaning that they can be dismissed,” Pruitt said.

The Tampa Police Department declined to comment on the campaign’s allegations, but Castor’s campaign described them as nonsense.

Facts are facts,” said Castor Campaign Manager Tim Wagner. “The bottom line is Tampa is far safer today than before the Tampa Police Department started implementing a crime reduction strategy implemented by Jane Castor.”

The campaign blasted Straz for “attacking the honesty of Tampa’s entire Police Department.”

They provided a copy of a 2007 FBI audit that found the department’s reporting methods and resulting data were “significant correct.”

“David Straz is welcome to conduct his audit, too,” Wagner said. “The bottom line is Tampa residents worked very hard with Tampa Police officers to make our city safer, and lies by Straz won’t change that.”

The Straz campaign did offer one somewhat verifiable piece of data, that the city’s homicide rate increased 70 percent while Castor was chief.

While that figure, which compares the number of murders in the city in 2009, the year Castor became chief, to 2015 when she retired, is correct. It’s also misleading.

There were 20 murders in 2009 and 34 in 2015. Castor didn’t become police chief until October of 2009 and she left the office about halfway through 2015 when the homicide rate was half the total for the year. Additionally, the 70 percent increase does not represent year over year changes. The year before she left there were 28 murders and two years before that there were 23.

Over the past 10 years, the number of homicides in the city has varied from a low of 20 to a high of 39 in 2017, the same year the Seminole Heights serial killer murdered four.

The Straz campaign began airing a 60-second television ad Tuesday repeating the same allegations and featuring Pruitt. Straz claims he had never met or spoken with Pruitt before Tuesday’s press conference.

The latest allegations are another in a string of attacks Straz and his campaign have leveled against Castor’s track record as chief of police ranging from the experience not being adequate to become mayor to a potential cover-up of an officer-involved killing during a police raid.

Straz grew angry when asked about his campaign’s use of negative campaign tactics. He said it’s not negative campaigning if it’s true. Pressed on whether it was fair to call his latest allegation true when the campaign lacked evidence, Straz pointed only to the increase in homicide rates.

“[The people of Tampa] are getting a false sense of security from somebody who doesn’t tell the truth,” Straz said. “I’ve told the truth my whole life.”

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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