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Tampa City Council moves forward on creating civilian police review board

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa City Council today moved ahead toward the creation of a citizens police review board, but what that agency will ultimately look like and who will appoint its members has yet to be determined.

The Council approved a motion brought forward by Councilman Mike Suarez that will have the city’s legal department review whether the Council can create such an advisory committee, and if so, can it be a hybrid review committee, with the powers to do so under the City Charter.

“An advisory committee gives advice on how to change something,” Councilman Suarez said after the vote. “A review is: you’ve done something, I’m going to order you what to do.”

The measure was brought before the Council today by Chairman Frank Reddick, who said he did so because he believes in creating accountability and transparency for the police. He also said that citizens in his East Tampa District 5 area feel they have no voice currently to register their complaints with the police department.  “They don’t trust what’s in place now.”

That sentiment was backed up by the approximately 20 people who came before the Council to support Reddick’s call for a civilian review board, none more poignant than Lena Young-Green, whose husband, Arthur Green Jr., died while being detained by police in a driving incident in 2014. Though the police claimed he was acting erratic, in fact he was a diabetic having a seizure. The Green family (who are suing the city over the incident) has made it an objective since then that their patriarch will not have died in vain as they attempt to address what they claim are deficiencies in how the department operates.

“Perhaps if there were a review commission who knew, maybe they would have behaved differently. Maybe they would have called the paramedics to help him, rather than wrestling him to the ground, and killed him,” she said, her voice quivering. She then cited a state law sponsored by Tampa House Democrat Ed Narain that would extend education to law enforcement officers and improve response to those suffering a diabetic emergency.
‘This mayor did not step forward to help us at the local level,” Young-Green added. “We had to go to the state level in order to pass a law.”
Another incident that has outraged the black community in particular in Tampa was this spring’s expose by the Tampa Bay Times that found that Tampa police have cited blacks for 79 percent of all bicycle infractions in the city over the past three years. That prompted  Mayor Bob Buckhorn and now former police chief Jane Castor to call for a review of those policies by the community policing office (COPS) of the Justice Department, an investigation slated to continue until the end of the year.
“At 16 years old I was stopped for riding bicycles in Central Park Village,” said Ali Muhammed. “To this day, I have not recovered my life from that ticket,” he said. Now 31, he said such a review board was “long overdue. The time is now to bring attention to this situation.”
Other speakers followed, some with more edge than others.
“I’m so sick and tired of y’all coming in and asking for something,” said Yvette Lewis, the political action chair for the Hillsborough County NAACP about seeing council members when they’re running for election. “And when we come and ask for something, we literally have to beg. My begging days are over. Enough is enough!”
Another factor creating the momentum for such a review board in Tampa is what’s been happening nationally over the last year, as a number of blacks have been killed by law enforcement officers that have been captured by video, making those events unavoidable.
“Police officers perform a necessary but dangerous task in protecting the public and they deserve support,” said Joyce Hamilton Henry from the ACLU. “However, the reality is that there is increased evidence of stop, frisk, search, seizure, overpolicing, and the use of excessive force by police that has led to deaths while in law enforcement custody, or by law enforcement. This cannot be ignored.”
Police Chief Eric Ward told the Council that the proposal is “not out of question,” but says that since meeting with a group of activists about a month ago on the proposal, he’s   researched about 15 such agencies around the country, and has found that no two such agencies are alike. “I’m trying to gather information to give an informed opinion,” he said.
“This is not something we can jump into,” he cautioned. “Each one of them is different.”
But Councilwoman Yolie Capin said there’s no “cookie-cutter” for such an agency because each local government that has formed them are different and have different priorities. And Reddick said that instead of studying so many agencies, Ward should just drive over to St. Petersburg and learn about its citizens review committee, one of nine local governments to have a citizens review board.
After Capin and other members of Council told Ward that time was of the essence, Councilman Charlie Miranda disagreed, saying that Ward should take as much as time as he needs.
A big question for Chairman Reddick and the other council members is who will select the members of such an agency — themselves and/or the mayor and/or the police chief?  They’ll learn more when City Attorney Julia Mandell returns to discuss the issue on September 3.

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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