Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward told the City Council this morning that bike citations in the city are down 69 percent this summer – a radical reduction in citations after a published report this spring showed that the police department had written more bike tickets in the past three years than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined – with 80 percent of them going to black people.
Police gave out 59 bike tickets from May through July, Ward said. He attributed the reduction in tickets to change a change in philosophy, as well as changing police procedures beginning from the time he took over to begin recording warnings and citations to make their reporting more accurate. Overall, he said bike stops in August were down 57 percent from 2014 – from 1,054 to 450. And tickets from those stops went from 66 to 13.
While the news was welcomed by the council, they also wanted more information as to how the reduction occurred.
“Could you be more … explanatory in what caused that decrease?” asked Council Chair Frank Reddick.
In addition to a new way of tracking the information, Ward said the change had to do with his philosophy of community policing, inferring that it wasn’t a priority with prior chief Jane Castor.
“Part of our responsibility is to focus on the community relations we’re doing,” he said. “And I think that message is resonating for the officers in the department, and the officers get it.”
Councilwoman Lisa Montelione questioned how the the department was aware that there was a 57 percent decrease in tracking if the new procedures put in place just began in May.
Ward said the department could track warnings for 2014, but “in a different system.” He said the information was pulled manually for ’14, whereas new procedures installed in May are more automated.
“It may be reaching to put an exact number on it, since we did not have a definitive way to track those numbers,” Montelione replied skeptically.
City Councilman Mike Suarez asked the chief did any of the bike stops lead to additional crimes that may have been committed? Ward didn’t have such information at his disposal, and told Suarez he’d have to research that.
The City Council then voted on a Suarez motion that as part of any reports on future bike stops, the police must record if those citations led to arrests for more serious crimes.
Today’s council meeting comes a week before Ward will return to address board members on his original take on how a civilian police review board should be established. The call for such a board grew after the April Tampa Bay Times report. The city also requested that the Department of Justice’ COPS Office investigate the situation. They will present their report at year’s end.
A coalition of citizens have been meeting in recent weeks and will prepare their own idea to the council in advance of next Thursday’s meeting. The Council itself may also have their own ideas on how such a board should be constituted.