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Tampa activists blast Bob Buckhorn’s version of a police Civilian Review Board

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If it were up to Bob Buckhorn, there wouldn’t be a police Civilian Review Board (CRB). The mayor signed an executive order creating such a board late last week, after activists and later City Council Chairman Frank Reddick began calling for such an agency in the wake of the report by the Tampa Bay Times in April that the Tampa Police Department was disproportionately citing blacks for bicycle infractions.

However, those same citizens who were calling for its creation are criticizing what the mayor came up with last week, specifically the fact that he will name nine of the 11-member board. Today, two dozen activists gathered in front of the Tampa Police Department’s downtown headquarters to denounce the plan, which also does not allow for the proposed board to have subpoena power to call witnesses, another aspect of the plan that the activists are denouncing.

“The mayor slapped this community in the face last Friday, and we’re here to respond,” said longtime Tampa activist Kelly Benjamin in kicking off the press conference. “You can’t create a Civilian Review Board by cutting out the citizens in the process.”

Critics say that the mayor and Police Chief Eric Ward have erred by aping the model employed by the city of St. Petersburg — where the mayor controls who sits on its CRB and which does not grant subpoena power. Instead, they want Tampa to duplicate what’s done in Miami, which does allow its CRB such powers.

City of Tampa Attorney Julia Mandell contends that the city’s Charter, which acts as the city constitution of sorts, only allows for an agency like a Civilian Review Board to have subpoena power if it’s been delegated that power by a legislative act.

But Russell Meyer, the executive director of the Florida Council of Churches, disputes Mandell’s legal interpretation, and says it simply “undergirds” the position that Mayor Buckhorn desires.

Tampa City Council Chairman Frank Reddick says that he will bring forward an independent attorney at Thursday’s Council meeting who intends to challenge Mandell’s assertion regarding subpoena power, as well as whether or not the Charter allows only the mayor — and not the Council — to have the power to name members to the CRB.

Under Buckhorn’s proposal, he will pick seven of the nine members of the board, as well as two alternates. The Council will have just two selections. But Reddick told SPB on Monday that he intends to present his own proposal that would give each council member one pick, with Buckhorn getting two selections and Chief Ward two selections.

“We believe that the whole community should be involved, that the whole community should have an opportunity to know what’s going on and to make recommendations to the police department and to the mayor,” said Dr. Bernie Powell Jackson, the pastor of the First United Church of Tampa and the co-president of HOPE, the Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality.

HOPE has been at odds with Mayor Buckhorn over his refusal to entertain the idea of banning companies that sell goods or services to the city from using a question, or box, on their job applications asking whether applicants have a criminal record.

“My concern is accountability,” said Eugene Harrison, who said that as a black man he’s personally experienced racial profiling. “It’s not a good feeling to feel that you’ve been mistreated or pulled over for no reason.”

Michelle Williams with the Tampa chapter of the Black Panthers said that the Civilian Review Board “must look like all of us. It has to have all shades in the community. It can’t be token people by Mayor Bob Buckhorn…. it can’t be all the tokens, because everyone who looks like me does not speak for me.”

Council member Yolie Capin says that the mayor needed to listen a little more to the citizens who have been affected the most in having poor relations with the police.

“I’m not sure that he didn’t hit the mark on that one,” she said on Monday. “No, I’m pretty sure he didn’t.”

The mayor is on a trade trip to Ireland this week, and unavailable for comment.

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 mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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