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Bob Buckhorn announces police civilian review board, but activists say it falls short

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Police Chief Eric Ward announced the creation of an independent civilian police review board Friday, but the activists whose public pressure led to the formation of the new agency are not pleased with how it will be implemented.

The board will consist of 11 members — nine voting members and two alternates — and Buckhorn will choose nine of those 11 members. The City Council will have two selections, though when Buckhorn was questioned about that distribution during a City Hall news conference Friday said by law that he didn’t have to give them any.

The panel will review cases involving use of force and other cases that resulted in internal investigations, as well as issues of importance to the community and TPD.

Buckhorn said he and Ward had listened to the concerns and complaints from City Council and the community, and said this was the best plan for this community, “not Ferguson, not Baltimore, not Cleveland, not any city but the city of Tampa.”

Those cities have had major unrest over the past year because of violence between law enforcement and members of the black community. There have been no such high-profile incidents in Tampa. What unleashed pent-up anger toward the TPD was the Tampa Bay Times report in April that documented how the department had disproportionately cited black residents for bicycle infractions.

That story led to the NAACP and ACLU to call on the city to stop that policy. Although police said they wouldn’t, recent statistics released Thursday by Ward indicate that in fact, they have — with such stops and tickets dramatically reduced this summer.

Buckhorn went on to say that, “In trying to create a process that does justice to the community, that does justice to the citizens that we police, and that does justice to the men and women who put on Kevlar vests every day for us: the men and women of the Tampa Police Department. I will not compromise on that.”

Although he said he and Chief Ward have looked at similar civilian review boards “from San Francisco to St. Petersburg,” the city is opting to take the St. Pete model.

“It’s been very effective,” Ward said. “It promotes transparency with the agency, and also with the community.”

But the St. Pete model does not allow for subpoena power, a crucial element that activists had been calling for and that many cities with civilian review boards have.

Leila Abdelaziz, a member of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and a leading member of the activist coalition calling for such a board, was dismissive upon hearing of how it will work.

“Police Chief Ward says he doesn’t want a useless, ineffective civilian review board. The St. Pete model is a useless, ineffective civilian review board,” she said. “These are just around-the-clock requirements in order for such a civilian review board to exist.”

Abdelaziz said her group supports the civilian review board implemented in Miami, which does have subpoena power.

Buckhorn said he would choose people for the board who represent the diversity of Tampa, but he emphasized who would not be on the board: “People who have an agenda, people who are aspiring for political office, people who hate the police. This is not going to work if that’s the type of members that we have. We need serious people who are about to engage in serious work.”

The mayor also acknowledged there would be some who wouldn’t pleased with the new board’s configuration. “There will be some folks out there who will hoot and holler and say it’s not enough. There’s some folks out there who would like to run the police department themselves. That’s not happening.”

When asked about allowing the community itself to have at least one representative choose a member, Buckhorn said, “City Council has the opportunity to make that choice, as do I. My responsibilities are to broader larger community, not to the loudest members of the community.”

Members have to be at least 18 years old for the volunteer board. It requires a four-year commitment, and they cannot be part of any law enforcement agency. They can’t hold political office, or be a political candidate. They have to undergo a background check, are required to attend a citizens police academy, and must go a “ride along” with a police officer.

Ward said he welcomes having the agency in place: “It can only make us better.”

The review board’s meetings will take place at 6 p.m. on the fourth Monday of the month, will be televised and open to the public. Buckhorn hopes to have the board in place by December.

For details on the Citizens Review Board, visit www.tampagov.net/police.

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 [email protected]

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