Responding to the attack on the Dallas Police Department which killed five officers and wounded seven others, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Police Chief Eric Ward expressed their sorrow and condolences Friday.
In discussing the breakdown in the relationship between the police and people of color nationally, they both maintained that Tampa is in better shape than in many other parts of the country. However, the mayor acknowledged it wouldn’t take much to disrupt that alliance.
“On any given night in America, something like this could happen,” he said at a news conference at the Tampa Police Department headquarters.
The violence in Dallas Thursday night followed videos of the murders of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in a Minneapolis suburb, which appears to have further eroded the trust between blacks and the police in America.
In reaction to Dallas, Ward said he had implemented new deployment strategies for his officers, but refused to say what they were.
“When you put out that information it’s kind of defeating the purpose,” he said.
Buckhorn visited police officers in District Two in North Tampa and District Three in East Tampa before 7 a.m. on Friday. He said the visits were to let officers know that he “has their back” and that he’ll do “whatever we have to do” to ensure safety.
The mayor also said that the events of this week had provided a challenge he has never observed in all his time in public office.
“It is an ugly time in America for a lot of reasons,” he said. “There is a dynamic that I haven’t seen in this country in the thirty-plus years that I have been in public life. There are reasons for that, but ultimately as a nation, we’ve got to understand that violence is never the answer, and the only way to combat violence is with love.”
Criminologists and other police experts have said for years that a good deal of violent encounters that have occurred between the police and the public can be overcome with improved training. Ward agrees with that, and says the TPD’s goal is always to get officers out and about in the community. “The community needs to know that these officers are human, and that they have family members as well,” he said.
This past spring, the TPD unveiled another tool to strengthen their relationship with members of the community by teaming up with the Tampa Bay Rays for their “Connect. Protect. Respect” initiative, where officers hand out vouchers to Rays games to reward residents for “doing good deeds in helping to keep local communities safe.”
“We want the community to see these officers as human so getting out of their car and engage in conversation when there’s no crimes going on is,” Ward said.
Like so many other incidents between the police and black citizens in the past couple of years, the events in Minnesota and Louisiana were captured on videotape — and in the case of the Castile’s death Castile — broadcast live via Facebook. Chief Ward says he has no problem at all with citizens videotaping their encounters with the police.
“Each citizen has the right to record in public space,” he said. “Having those videos out doesn’t concern us, making sure that those officers are properly trained is what concerns us.”
Buckhorn said the prevalence of social media “tends to inflame people when the facts have not been determined,” adding that “a rush to judgment is not good for America.”
Like so many other police departments around the country, the TPD is currently using a fixed number of body cameras and has been since January of 2015. It’s been the most tangible action legislative enacted across the country to address the issues of the deadly incidents between the police and members of the public.
Critics note that they haven’t appeared to stem the number of these events.
A Washington Post story Thursday says that the number of fatal shootings by officers increased from 465 in the first six months of last year to 491 for the same period this year.
When asked what more could be done legislatively to attempt to combat the problem, Buckhorn said it was high time for some gun control measures to be enacted.
“These officers on the street are dealing with folks who are armed and inclined to use them, most of whom are not permitted to purchase a weapon,” he said. “And so I think that anyone who doesn’t acknowledge the fact that there are too many guns on the street in the hands of the wrong people and that some appropriate gun violence prevention measures are needed is a fool. Go spend a day with a cop, and then tell me that we need more guns on the street.
“So I think there’s a lot of things that we can do that would be helpful if our friends in Washington and Tallahassee have the political fortitude to do the right thing, and realize they don’t work for the NRA, they work for the people who elected them.”