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Jane Castor mostly unrepentant as she goes before Tampa City Council on “biking while black” controversy

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Accompanied by three burly members of the Police Benevolent Association, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor went before the City Council this morning for nearly an hour, discussing the issues around the disproportionate number of citations written against black citizens in the city that were exposed in a Tampa Bay Times story last weekend.

The charges have prompted Castor and Mayor Bob Buckhorn to call on the Department of Justice to review the department’s performance regarding the citations. But as she did the day before at a press conference, the chief pushed back strongly against the allegations made in the story, and believes her department has done nothing wrong.

“One thing I won’t stand for is undue criticism of my officers and our organization, and I vehemently disagree with the allegations that were made this past Sunday in one of our newspapers. Our officers do a good job everyday out there with the individuals  on the street, making sure that each and every neighborhood is safe.”

But acknowledging that the national perception of the department has taken a thorough beating since the story’s publication, Castor said she has met with advocacy groups on Tuesday to determine if there was “something that was missing.”

Although City Council members commended her for bringing in the Department of Justice to review the TPD’s work in this area, Castor made sure to thank Mayor Buckhorn at the end of the meeting for doing so, suggesting that it was as much his idea to bring in the DOJ as hers, if not more so.

“One of the things that he and I decided was it would be a good idea….and maybe there’s something I’m not seeing in my organization,” referring to calling in Ronald L. Davis, who heads the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) of the U.S. Department of Justice to do an independent review of the TPD’s bike enforcement.

“I’m confident that will come out just as we have said, that we are out there, making sure that the laws are enforced fairly, and justly in every single community.”

Castor’s presentation was a carbon-copy of her comments to the media on Wednesday, emphasizing how the department has reduced crime by 70 percent since 2003.

Castor also repeated to Council that she was not allowed to see the data that Times reporters Alex Zayas and Kameel Stanley gathered for their report, an allegation that Zayas says is inaccurate.

“For the record, never requested bike ticket data. Mayor’s office asked for it Monday, and we shared it immediately,” Zayas tweeted out on Thursday.

Every member of the City Council addressed Castor, with the exception of Charlie Miranda, who left the meeting early.

Mike Suarez was perhaps the most pointed, saying that some of the stories about black cyclists being cited “give me pause,” referring to what appeared to be the egregious citing of Alphonso Lee King, who was busted for not having a receipt of the purchase of his bike.

“The thing we can lose sight of is not doing things the right way,” before quickly asserting he wasn’t suggesting there was any racial profiling going on.

Castor responded that the article neglected to mention that five times he had been previously arrested for criminal offenses, nor did it mention that he had 41 felony convictions.

What she didn’t say, however, was if he was committing any offense when he was pulled over by the police. Instead she said “When stopped, Mr. King said he found that bike.”

“The officer gave him a receipt for that bicycle,” she added, saying that it was posted as “found property” and ultimately given back to him – after 90 days.

Other council members backed off slightly from their published remarks in recent days.

Yolie Capin told Florida Politics two days ago that she was “ashamed” after reading the Times piece, but qualified that for Castor, saying the Council dropped the ball.

“I’m ashamed that we, as leaders, did not recognize…that there was this huge issue of education, of safety, and that we’re here and that the bell wasn’t rung earlier.”

“We are quick to jump to conclusions as the public when reading an article,” said Guido Maniscalco, who said on Monday that it seemed the department’s actions seemed “pretty discriminatory.”

Councilwoman Lisa Montelione expressed concerns that TPD officers were under a quota system for issuing tickets, but Castor said that was not the case. “We have a very robust productivity monitoring system for the officers for evaluation purposes,” and said it actually cost the TPD to enforce any type of traffic activity, denying that citations brought money into the department.

Councilman Frank Reddick represents District 5, which includes some of the most low-income areas/high-crime areas in Tampa. He said he received a number of phone calls from constituents on Sunday about the story.

“I just don’t want it to be that just because someone is African American, living in a high-crime area…that they stand the risk of being stopped and questioned based on the economic development of the neighborhood they live in,” he said.

“I couldn’t agree with you more, Sir,” Castor replied.

The Council voted to have city staff report on where are all the current bike lanes drawn up throughout the city, and also what it will take to reinstate a program that partners Tampa Police officers and at-risk youth. Both reports will come back to them on July 16.

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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