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Hillsborough County Young Democrats discuss and criticize Tampa’s Citizen Review Board

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With Mayor Bob Buckhorn naming his selections to the Tampa citizen police review board (CRB) earlier this week, the City Council needs to select its four members before the new agency meets for the first time in December. Don’t think, however, that the activists who pushed for its creation in the first place are at all satisfied with the model that city leaders have produced.

Tuesday night at CoWork Ybor on Seventh Avenue, two members from Tampa for Justice, the group formed earlier this year to deal with issues of concern regarding the Tampa Police Department, talked about the CRB in front of the Hillsborough County Young Democrats in a discussion moderated by Bill Meyers, an assistant professor of government and world affairs at the University of Tampa.

Jennifer Webb from the USF Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships said her involvement with trying to hold the TPD accountable stemmed in part from the death of Arthur Green Jr. back in 2014. He was the 63-year-old black Seminole Heights resident who was cuffed and restrained by Tampa Police for swerving into traffic and sideswiping a couple of cars. The police officers were unable to recognize Green’s symptoms of hypoglycemia, a diabetic emergency. Within minutes, he lost consciousness and died soon after.

Although Tampa Police officials  have said little about the incident, the Florida Legislature this year passed a law sponsored by Tampa House Democrat Ed Narain that requires the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to create online continuing education training for this type of situation.

Webb also recounted an anecdote where she said she saw TPD officers harassing black youths and using a taser on one individual. She said after she complained about the incident to an officer, she said she was told by an officer that “we tase kids all the time.”

Leila Abdelaziz from the Council on American Islamic Relations has become one of the leaders of Tampa for Justice movement. She said her group wanted to address the TPD “proactively in a healthy and constructive way” after the Tampa Bay Times expose in April of the police department’s policy of disproportionately citing blacks for committing violations on their bicycles.

Tampa for Justice made a recommendation to then-Chief Jane Castor that the department stop issuing the citations, as well to call on the U.S. Justice Civil Rights Department to investigate their practices. The citations didn’t stop (though they have slowed), and the TPD did call on the  the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to review the bike citations program, and not the Civil Rights Division.
Abdelaziz says she began doing research after the Times report and discovered that while Florida cities like Key West and Miami have citizens review boards to monitor the police, Tampa did not, which surprised her.
“I thought I had given them a golden ticket, a great opportunity for easy P.R.,” she said about the call for the DOJ to investigate and for the city to create a review board. “I was shocked how adversarial the police chief and mayor was. They said that (review boards) were useless and a waste of time. That was the response.”
Undaunted, the activists then met up with City Council Chair Frank Reddick, who was much more enthusiastic about forming such a board.
But Abdelaziz’s and others’ criticism of the board as it has been created transcends the high-profile issue of who gets to select its membership, which has been the only point of contention among Council members. They otherwise have not indicated any issues with what Buckhorn has created.
Tampa attorney Jamie Klapholz says that the problem with the newly created CRB is that it’s more of an internal police review board, with the police still having the upper hand in reviewing egregious violations. Under the ordinance that Tampa for Justice proposed that the city adopt, the citizens review board would have full discretion to investigate and study general issues related to the TPD. They would be able to order discovery, hold evidentiary hearings, and issue subpoenas for documents and witness testimony under oath as part of the investigation.
The board would also issue written recommendations to Chief Eric Ward and Mayor Buckhorn, with both men either fully adopting the recommendation or providing a written explanation of why he or she is rejecting that recommendation.
None of that exists in the ordinance passed by the City Council earlier this month.
Abdelaziz said that Tampa for Justice also wants to be able to hold parallel investigations at the same time that the TPD is conducting an internal affairs investigation, something that Miami’s CRB is authorized to do.
“The fight’s not over,” Myers said. “We need to think about what the next steps are going to be, and how we can help facilitate bringing about that kind of public pressure that policitians react to.”
The Miami CRB is something that the activists can only wish would be adopted by Tampa officials. It has a budget of a million dollars.
“When you look at those boards that have those,” said Myers. “They have resources. This is a board on the cheap,” he added.
Members of the group bemoaned the fact that none of the people appointed by Buckhorn are millennials, with the group having a median age well over 50 years old.
“It really does seem like he’s making a board that will act like a rubber stamp,” said Chris Cano. “The police aren’t policing themselves. The mayor is complicit or negligent; neither case makes him fit to be our mayor.”
The Council has not announced when they will vote on their four picks.

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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