Two years ago, officials at California State University-Fullerton produced a comprehensive report on police civilian oversight boards. Among their findings was that obstacles to creating a successful agency included politicians who have a “law and order” agenda not conducive to oversight — and, even if such an agency was created, the power that lawmakers have to limit their oversight powers through legislation or budgets.
That’s just part of the institutional barriers that Tampa citizens who will be calling for such a board may face when they will go before the City Council this Thursday — a proposal introduced by Council Chair Frank Reddick.
Although he’s previously been opposed to such boards, Mayor Bob Buckhorn now says he’s amenable to such a proposal, telling the Tampa Bay Times’ Sue Carlton in today’s editions that “I’m open to it.”
Councilman Reddick says the time is right, and that’s why he believes the mayor is coming around on the issue.
“These boards are being established all across the country,” said Reddick Wednesday. “They’re not there to micromanage the police department. What we want to do here in Tampa is just to have accountability and transparency for the community. Most of the crime that’s taking place in the community is taking place in my district. And most of the people are calling for a review board.”
It has been years since there has been much of a clamor for such an agency in Tampa, but that changed after a Tampa Bay Times report in April revealed that the Tampa Police Department had been disproportionately citing blacks for bicycle infractions. That report ultimately led the city and the police department to call in the the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) earlier this summer.
Former Police Chief Jane Castor disputed the premise of the story, but acknowledged that the statistics unearthed by the Times were “troubling.” Mayor Bob Buckhorn has stood steadfast behind the department, saying that “allegations of racial profiling create an emotionally charged discussion within the community, but so does crime.”
But the TPD has refused to stop its activities when it comes to citing cyclists, despite pleas from the NAACP, the ACLU and other groups to do so.
There are 100 local cities and counties across the nation that have such civilian review boards, nine in Florida. Those are in St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Miami, Key West, Orlando, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, Orange County and Miami-Dade County.
“We cannot change the findings, but we can make recommendations,” says Lendel Bright, coordinator with the Civilian Police Review Committee in St. Petersburg.
That agency is a nine-member, multi-racial volunteer group whose members are appointed by the mayor. There are only two city employees involved — Lendel, who also works with two other departments in the city, and a staff aide.
Lendl explains that if the review committee disagrees with the police on an issue, they state the reasons and then can make recommendations to change the department’s policies or procedures. Those recommendations first are sent to the mayor, and then goes to the police chief, who both have to agree with the changes before they go into effect.
There have traditionally been four types of civilian review boards.
- Type 1: Citizens investigate allegations of police mis-conduct and recommend findings to the chief or sheriff.
- Type 2: Police officers investigate allegations and develop findings; citizens review and recommend that the chief or sheriff approve or reject the findings.
- Type 3: Complainants may appeal findings established by the police or sheriff’s department to citizens, who review them and then recommend their own findings to the chief or sheriff.
- Type 4: An auditor investigates the process by which the police or sheriff’s department accepts and investigates complaints and reports on the thoroughness and fairness of the process to the department and the public.
Some agencies have subpoena power — St. Pete’s does not.
At last Saturday’s townhall meeting in East Tampa regarding the black community’s relations with the TPD and Mayor Bob Buckhorn, one of the solutions the group of citizens agreed upon was to lobby the City Council for a citizens review board.
“If the community holds to the energy from the discussion and transfers it to the City Council, you should see a pretty good swelling of numbers there who came to the meeting,” says Dr. Kurt Young, the moderator for last week’s meeting.
Laila Abdelaziz with CAIR Florida says of tomorrow’s meeting, “We’re packing the room big time.”
City Councilman Guido Maniscalco says he’s bringing an open mind to the issue, looking forward to hearing what both Chief Eric Ward and the public have to say on the issue. “I haven’t had any emails for or against it,” he says.
SPB reached out to the TPD on Tuesday to hear what Chief Ward’s thoughts were about the issue. The department did not provide comment as of Wednesday morning.