Tampa Police didn’t racially discriminate when handing out more citations to black bicyclists: DoJ

Eric Ward and Bob Buckhorn
Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward (left) and Mayor Bob Buckhorn react to the Department of Justice report. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (26 April 2016).

The Tampa Police Department issued disproportionately more citations and tickets to black bicycle riders – but it was not intentional racial discrimination; those are some of the conclusions of a Department of Justice report released Tuesday morning.

It found 73 percent of bicycle stops in 2014 and the first eight months of 2015 involved black bicyclists, even though the population of Tampa is 26 percent black.

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A. Lee Bentley, III is the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida laid out the data examined by the Department of Justice.

“That although the bicycle ticketing had a racially disparate impact, it was not discriminatory. There was absolutely no intent on the part of TPD, to discriminate on the basis of race. No discriminatory intent, whatsoever. It’s also clear that many people in the community, including the most effected communities, predominately African-Americans, supported what TPD was doing.”

But not everyone supports the bicycle stops or the conclusions of the report. Over the last year a Tampa For Justice movement has formed to cut down on the racial disparities and to call for a strong, independent citizen board to review police actions.

After the press conference announcing the Department of Justice findings, Black Lives Matter member Connie Burton slammed its conclusion that despite racial disparities, Tampa Police did not intentionally discriminate – they were just monitoring high-crime areas.

“Police officers benefit as a result of writing tickets; the prison system benefits; the county courts benefit, so, we understand just like cotton was ‘gold,’ black bodies are ‘gold.

“We don’t buy that excuse because of these alleged high-crime areas, because these same areas and this same land that has been identified as a “high-crime area” has now become an urban core area, that is being gentrified to bring in white people, in these same areas. So, it’s not the area, it is the people.

“It is constant concentration of black people; the refusal to deal with the issues of poverty; the refusal to deal with the issues of injustice, is why we have these constant issues going in these whole communities.”

The report concludes that what it calls the ‘race-neutral motivations’ for the bicycle stops were not effective in reducing crime; the crime rate is virtually identical now that the number of bicycle citations has been drastically reduced.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn declined to apologize for the policy that resulted in racial disparities yet was ineffective.

“I’m never going to apologize for being aggressive in the crime fight. It’s just not going to happen. This was a tactic that we used. It was a tactic that — I think for the majority of the people in the communities that were affected — they were appreciative of the fact that we were there; that we were disrupting the drug trade and the gun trade and the violence. There were some who had another opinion. I don’t think it warrants an apology but, I do think it warrants corrective action based on the report that we just got from the COPS program.

“We strive every day to be better. We’re not always correct. Our tactics are not always correct. They are done with the best of intentions and I think this report proved that. It pointed out in very clear and certain terms, that this was not a discriminatory practice; that this was a practice that was driven with the best of intent. That deploying officers in high-crime neighborhoods, that the neighbors largely appreciated it.

“And so, when we need to adapt, we will adapt. And we’re going to take these recommendations and move forward and the end result will be a better police department; a more effective deployment of resources and tactics and the end result, I also hope will be an even further reduction in crime, than we’ve already seen.”

That didn’t sit well with Black Lives Matter activist Connie Burton.

“I hope that we remember him – that he has not been a friend of our community.”

Not long after the Tampa Bay Times exposed the racial disparities in bicycle stops and citations Eric Ward took over as Tampa Police Chief. He says the department is changing its system that rewarded officers for citations or even required a quota. Chief Ward says the department processes have been dismantled and rebuilt.

Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) director Ronald Davis says improvements Tampa makes could serve as a model for other cities.

The COPS report recommends that Tampa institute several changes including reducing the number of bicycle stops, documenting the ethnicity of people stopped and the reasons for the stop and community engagement.

Video of the press conference:

Video of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn:

Video of protest:


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