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Two Tampa City Council members say they’ll weigh bike citation policy in approving Eric Ward as new chief

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A half-hour after Eric Ward was named the new police chief for the city of Tampa, two City Council members joined a coalition of activist groups who again called on the Tampa Police Department to temporarily stop their current bike citation policy —  at least until after the U.S. Justice Department finishes its review of the agency’s practices.

Council Chairman Frank Reddick and District 7 Council member Lisa Montelione joined members of the ACLU, CAIR, the NAACP and a host of other organizations in Lykes Gas Light Park today, calling for the TPD to stop its practices — the second time they’ve done so in less than a week. It comes after a Tampa Bay Times report showed that 79 percent of citations written up against bicyclists in the city have been of blacks.

The question of the two council members at the press conference was straightforward — would they dare to vote against Ward if he won’t discontinue the practice?

“I won’t make any promises that I will confirm or not confirm,” Reddick said today.

Montelione was similarly evasive on the issue. “The jury’s still out on that” was as far as she would say. When asked about how the possibility of voting against Ward’s confirmation would probably make Mayor Bob Buckhorn most unhappy, Montelione laughed, saying, “Not happy is an understatement.”

Joyce Hamilton Henry from the ACLU says she and the other members of the coalition want the opportunity to sit down with Buckhorn and Chief Ward to discuss the bike citation policy. “We’re calling for a quick investigation by the Department of Justice, and a suspension of the bicycle stops,” she said.

Bruce Haynes, 48, is the founder from the group Men in Power. He said police officers should offer lights to cyclists who are without them. “Why do they have to be handcuffed because they don’t have a light?” (The TPD says they have offered over 2,000 such lights over the past year.) He says the motive the police are using is probable cause to search people. “I know this for a fact,” said Hanes, who says he used to live in the College Hill area in East Tampa.

Meanwhile, Mayor Buckhorn is conceding little regarding the stops. In the first interview with the mayor since the Times report came out 13 days ago, Buckhorn told this reporter that he thought the story was a “one-sided portrayal of the problem.”

“The numbers are what they are,” he conceded about the fact that 80 percent of cyclists cited by the TPD over the past three years have been black. “But they didn’t give equal credence to the success that we have had. We don’t profile people, we target criminals. Pure and simple. That’s it. It’s a high-crime area. We’re going to deploy our resources. We’re going to change our tactics, to make a difference in those neighborhoods.”

The mayor says the police go where the crime is.

“You don’t have the same problem in East Tampa that you do in Davis Islands. You just don’t, so it’s not a matter of us profiling folks because of their ethnicity.  We’re going after neighborhoods where there are issues and people are committing the crimes, pure and simple.”

But Buckhorn says if the Justice Department concludes that changes need to be made, “We will make them, and I’m OK about that.”

Yvette Lewis is hoping that the mayor’s participation in a town-hall meeting on Wednesday night where he heard the anger directed at the bike citation policy might turn him around.  “I would hope the mayor would say, ‘I understand, I get it, let’s just set this policy aside,'” she said. “It’s not about egos, it’s about the community.”

A week ago, the mayor rejected calls by the ACLU and others to stop the bike citation process. Unless rebuked by the DOJ, it’s not likely he’ll stop the program anytime soon.

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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