The Tampa Police Department is ending a controversial crime reduction strategy that led to disproportionate evictions of Black residents, Interim Chief Ruben Delgado told City Council Thursday.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor implemented the Crime-Free Multi Housing program in 2013 when she was chief of police. It was supposed to help keep violent crime, drugs and gang activity out of rental properties.
But a Tampa Bay Times investigation found police officers notified landlords of minor misdemeanor crimes, like shoplifting or driving with a suspended license, and provided lease addendums that allowed tenants to be evicted. That led to hundreds of evictions. In many cases offenders were never convicted of the crimes; were juvenile residents of a home; or were guests of a home. Regardless of conviction or being a leasee, landlords were empowered to evict any tenant associated with an arrest.
And the arrests disproportionately impacted the Black community. The Times investigation found “90% of the 1,100 people flagged by the program were Black, police records show. That’s despite Black residents making up only 54% of all arrests in Tampa over the past eight years.”
In one instance, a 16-year-old boy was arrested for stealing change out of cars and later released from juvenile detention with no charges. But his family’s landlord was notified and they lost their Robles Park Village home.
Brenda Allen of the Urban Progress Alliance said the program amounted to institutionalized and systemic racism.
“It talks to the guise of legitimate policy,” Allen said. “Discriminations against African Americans, including economic, political, educational and social discrimination, results in African Americans continuing to suffer debilitating economic educational and health adversities. A crime-free bill that specifically targets the African American community is a discriminatory act. We can no longer afford to have systemic racism and White supremacy in our city.”
City staff disputed some of the report’s findings and Castor stood by the program at the time, though she did pledge to reduce the types of crimes reported. Delgado’s announcement, however, represents the first time the city has walked the practice back.
“Our city should have no formal part in such a program,” Council member Luis Viera said. “This moves us away from that and I think that’s very good.”
In its place, Delgado introduced the Safety Awareness for Everyone, or SAFE, housing program. Delgado said the revamped program removes those unintended consequences, but maintains the same goals.
“The goal hasn’t changed,” Delgado said. “We’re going to eliminate some of the names, but the goals will stay the same.”
The SAFE program will incorporate neighborhood and business watch programs into its purview. One of the biggest tools, Delgado said, is an online dashboard coming at the beginning of the new year. The dashboard will show crime data across the city, allowing viewers to filter by neighborhoods, businesses and even specific apartment complexes. The dashboard will show date and type of activity and link straight to the city’s public records request form if someone wants more information.
But American Civil Liberties Union Attorney James Michael Shaw, Jr. said the city needs to do more. It’s already “let the genie out of the bottle” he said. And City Council needs to pass an ordinance expressly prohibiting landlords from enforcing the addendum. And it needs to make sure all residents are protected.
“If it’s not enforceable, it needs to be not enforceable against anybody,” Shaw said. “Not just people who have an attorney who know how to enforce that.”