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Bike citations in Tampa down 81 percent from a year ago

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward told the City Council Thursday that citations of bicyclists in the city are down 81 percent this July, compared to a year ago.

The department made only four citations in July, compared to 21 in July 2015, an 81 percent decrease. There was an even greater reduction in May, when the TPD made only six citations, compared to 32 in May 2015. Those citations did spike up in June, with 11 cyclists cited this year, versus eight in 2015.

Ward has been making regular visits to the council every quarter regarding such statistics since the revelations made in April 2015 by the Tampa Bay Times that the Tampa Police Department was disproportionately citing black cyclists for infractions. The report led to a Department of Justice investigation of the policy, which the DOJ concluded earlier this year was not discriminatory, but also wasn’t very effective in stopping crime.

When asked what has led to the reduction of such citations, Chief Ward said the department was simply taking a more “strategic approach.”

“We try to focus more on our education piece versus citation,” he told the board.

City Council Chair Mike Suarez said the statistics show that while bike citations are down, police are still collecting roughly the same amount of illegal weapons as before. “Even though you’ve reduced the number of warnings and citations, you still are getting the same number of firearms, which goes to show that you’re probably doing a better job of police work on the ground from the ground up, as opposed to just having a number of citations issued and hoping that you captured those firearms,” he said.

Ward said a lot of the improvement has to do with asking for the community getting more involved. “We receive those calls and put those officers out into those communities looking for those individuals specifically that are carrying firearms.”

Tampa Major Mike Baumaister also came before the council to review a recently completed study by the University of South Florida on the effect of 60 body cameras Tampa police officers have used over the past two years.

The officers who wore the cameras had an 8.4 percent reduction in response to resistance to physical force encounters in the year after the cameras were introduced. Conversely, officers who did not wear the cameras showed a 3.4 percent increase in use-of-force incidents.

“One thing we learned from the study is that cameras are not the end-all,” Baumaister said, adding that one factor in why the use-of-force incidents are higher with those officers not wearing body cameras was because of the increased tensions in recent months between the police and the community nationally.

The TPD applied for a $600,000 grant earlier this year to purchase more body cameras. The city would have to provide a $300,000 matching grant.

Councilwoman Lisa Montelione pushed Ward on when the TPD would learn if they qualified for the grant, but he said he did not know when that would be. That compelled Montelione to suggest the council put that money into the FY 2017 budget now.

“If we are saving lives, if we’re keeping people out of jail, if we’re keeping our police officers safe, I don’t want to wait on a grant that we don’t know when it may come to us or not,” she said. “I would implement something this important as soon as possible.”

“It’s up to the council,” Ward said.

“No, it’s actually up to the mayor,” Montelione corrected him.

 

 

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the 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. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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