ACLU to new Tampa police chief: stop targeting black people on bicycles

click to enlarge Ward, with his predecessor directly behind him, addresses the audience after his recent nomination. - kate bradshaw
kate bradshaw
Ward, with his predecessor directly behind him, addresses the audience after his recent nomination.

In the wake of Tampa City Council's unanimous approval of new Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward earlier today, a decision sparking calls for major policy changes within the department.

Ward was born and raised in East Tampa, a predominately African-American area, and even spent some of his childhood in public housing. He's a 26-year veteran on the force and served in many roles before succeeding former chief Jane Castor, who retired earlier this month. 

Given his background (he even participated in the police youth sports league as a kid) and his objectives, most people see him as an obvious choice.

At an event announcing Mayor Bob Buckhorn's choice late last month, Ward said he plans on placing more emphasis on community engagement. But when speaking to reporters after the announcement, he said he wouldn't halt a department practice that some say unfairly targets African Americans riding bicycles after the Tampa Bay Times published a rather damning piece about it.

City Council Chair Frank Reddick initially said during a press conference featuring community leaders that he'd consider blocking the nomination if Ward didn't stop the practice, but an attempt never materialized.

The American Civil Liberties Union's Florida branch issued a statement this afternoon that once again asked Ward to consider halting the practice.

“While we congratulate Eric Ward on his confirmation, we continue to be worried about the implementation of bicycle citations,” Joyce Hamilton Henry, Director of Advocacy for the ACLU of Florida, said in a written statement. “Now that Chief Ward has officially begun his role, we’re glad that he has expressed interest in meeting with civil rights groups and faith leaders to discuss the bike citations and other related issues in policing in order to make our community safer for all of its members.”

The group plans to continue to push for a suspension of the bicycle citation policy while the U.S. Department of Justice looks into it.

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