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Les Miller: TPD bike policy should be suspended, but still confirm new Chief

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller thinks the Tampa Police Department’s policies on bicycle infractions, which disproportionately singled out blacks in the city, is wrong and should be discontinued until the Justice Department concludes its review of the policy.

But he doesn’t think it should hold up the confirmation of newly appointed Police Chief Eric Ward.

“I do understand what some of the argument is — that a lot of these gangs are riding these bicycles, and that they (the police) are stopping them, but why are you stopping a person because they’re on a bicycle? (Because) They’re black and maybe that’s the only mode of transportation?” he asked Florida Politics on Friday. “That is constitutionally against that persons’ rights. Something has to be done.”

Having said that, he doesn’t support any member of the City Council rejecting Eric Ward as the new police chief, as two members hinted on Thursday that they might do if Ward says he won’t stop the controversial policy.

“I have met with him on a number of occasions, talking about some of the shootings and crimes in East and West Tampa,” says Miller. “The man is generally concerned about those things. I think why should give him the opportunity to be chief and try to resolve the ticketing of the blacks on bicycles.”

Speaking to reporters after the news conference where he was introduced to the press and public by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Ward said he will continue the policy under soon-to-be former chief Jane Castor that targets high-crime areas of the city.

“We don’t see any issues with our current process, and basically we’re enforcing our violations throughout the city,” he said. ”We’ll wait on the evaluation. If they find any discrepancies, we’lll act on that immediately.”

The ACLU, the NAACP and a host of other groups continue to call for the TPD to discontinue their bike citation policy until the Justice Department completes its review, which is just set to begin and reportedly will take months to conclude. Commissioner Miller also believes the policy should be suspended until Justice completes its work.

Last night in Tampa, there was yet another shooting, this time at the Sunoco on 34th St N and Hillsborough Ave. Two people were shot outside of the parking lot, and one was in serous condition late Thursday night.

Miller says black on black shootings in Tampa and Hillsborough County are occurring at an exponential rate in 2015 compared to a year ago, and that must remain the focus of the TPD.

“Let’s address that,” he says. “You’ve had more guns stolen this year in four months than all of last year (at least 400 to date). Let’s address those issues also. But let the gentleman be confirmed and let him do his job, but do not issue anymore citations on to blacks riding bicycles, or anyone riding bicycles.”

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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