Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announced recommended changes to the city’s largely toothless police Citizen Review Board (CRB), but City Council will have to vote on them before they are enacted.
Castor—flanked by Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan and current CRB chair Rasheed Ali Aquil—made the announcement during a 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon virtual press conference where media was asked to submit questions by text message.
Among the notable recommendations made by Castor on Thursday:
- The police hiring process will be reviewed with, and by the CRB moving forward
- The CRB will also participate in a newly formed TPD interview panel made up of retired and active TPD officers, along with CRB members
- The CRB should be able to review cases once they're closed, but prior to the disciplinary decisions so that the CRB may provide feedback for the chief of police
- That the CRB be authorized to review monthly notifications from the complaint tracking system to see a list of new complaints and the status of pending investigations
- The CRB coordinator and the CRB chair should also review complaints on a weekly basis through a separate email chain
- The CRB be responsible for obtaining public feedback survey every three years regarding the police department's policies and procedures
Castor's recommendations regarding additional duties for CRB coordinator
- The CRB coordinator should post workshops to train the board bi-annually or more frequently on topics including, but not limited to: standards or policies related to the use of force, law enforcement ethics, pursuits, grievances, public records, hiring processes and procedures, and body worn camera policies and procedures
- The CRB coordinator should also be responsible for notifying the CRB about new use of force policies or changes
- During the annual report to city council the CRB coordinator should also include information and statistics for any recommended changes to the CRB ordinance
Castor’s recommendations for CRB membership criteria
- The disqualification of anyone who has been arrested by TPD or who is currently suing TPD
- Two additional CRB members, with the recommendation that one be a member from the NAACP, and the other be from the University of South Florida or the University of Tampa criminology department
Castor’s recommended administrative changes for the CRB
- The creation of a CRB website where meetings can be announced and agendas can be shared.
- CRB meetings should be held throughout the city, rotating through each council district to ensure community-wide participation, with each of the meetings containing an educational component plus a discussion about a policy, procedure, program or issue of interest between the residents in the police department.
- Livestreamed meetings with a ticker that allows citizens to express concerns, complaints or positive feedback.
Castor's announcements come after nearly two months of non-stop protests from activists who demand to have a say in how the CRB is reimagined.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that a dozen protesters had gathered outside the mayor’s office on Thursday and demanded to be let into Castor’s virtual press conference. Jae Passmore, who sustained injuries after being struck by a car during a late-June protest in South Tampa, told the Times’ Charlie Frago (who was the only member of the press allowed to attend the press conference in-person), “It’s completely unfair to be able to pick and choose what members of the media should be able to attend press conferences. What constitutes a member of the press?”
During the question and answer period of the conference, Castor said that her task force on policing will continue to meet either virtually or in-person depending on the status of coronavirus cases in the city. Some participants left the first meeting on June 27, which press was not allowed to cover, skeptical. The next meeting is this Saturday, July 18—press is not allowed to attend.
"We are making changes here to the CRB right now; if there are additional changes that come up as a result of our task force, if there are any other suggestions that would enhance the CRB, then certainly we can implement those as well,” Castor said. “We just felt that there was a call for some immediate action, so we've tried to take that action as quickly as possible.”
In a post-press conference phone call with Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, Tampa City Council Chair Guido Maniscalco said he was relieved to hear that the council would have to approve of any changes to the CRB.
He was also glad that one of Castor’s recommendations was that the CRB have a chance to review closed cases and provide feedback to the chief of police before they decide on disciplinary actions.
“The CRB meetings are public,” Maniscalco told CL. “I hope the public reviews the agenda and the cases being discussed and then shows up ready to make their opinions known to the CRB.”
Maniscalco also understood Castor’s suggestion that someone who is suing TPD should not serve on the CRB, but he hopes that council could address the mayor’s suggestion that anyone who’s been arrested by TPD be disqualified from serving on the CRB.
Many of the protesters demanding changes to policing in the city of Tampa have been arrested. On June 15, State Attorney Andrew Warren said his office would not prosecute 67 people arrested on allegations of unlawful assembly, saying, “Prosecuting people for exercising their First Amendment rights doesn’t solve problems, it creates them.”
Maniscalco, for his part, said he believes in forgiveness and second chances. He knows people who’ve been arrested and had charges dropped. He also knows people who’ve been convicted on petty marijuana charges.
“People make mistakes, we're human. A lot of these people who got arrested didn’t hurt anyone. Why punish people forever?,” Maniscalco said. “The CRB disqualifying someone just because they got arrested needs to be brought up and explored.”
And when it comes to appointing members of the CRB, Maniscalco would—at the very least—want each of the seven members of Tampa City Council to be able to appoint one member of the CRB. As it stands, the mayor appoints a majority of the 11-person CRB. Adding two seats—as the mayor suggested in her Thursday conference—and giving each council member the authority to appoint one member (which Castor did not mention) would mean that council members are selecting a majority of the CRB members (seven out of 13 seats).
“If the mayor wants seven appointments, and council gets seven appointments, plus an alternate, that would make it equal. I understand that we have a strong mayor form of government, but no one person or entity—like the mayor or the council—should be able to stack the CRB with their slate of appointments on a board that’s supposed to be unbiased and fair,” Maniscalco told CL.
But in a Thursday press release, Tampa For Justice (a group which CL contributor and activist-journalist Kelly Benjamin is a member) said that Castor not relinquishing control of the CRB “perpetuates the sham” of the board. Benjamin's group has called for the CRB to have independent investigatory power. Attached to Tampa For Justice's release was an eight-page proposed ordinance presented to Tampa City Council by the NAACAP and ACLU.
And it’s no secret that the CRB created under Mayor Bob Buckhorn is widely seen as a toothless entity without the authority to truly hold TPD accountable. But Tampa didn't have to live with the hapless CRB it has today.
The onus for the CRB came in the wake of a 2015 Tampa Bay Times investigation which found that for three years under then chief Jane Castor, Tampa police wrote 2,504 bike tickets—80% of the tickets went to Black people. In response to the investigation, Tampa For Justice called for a Citizen Review Board of the Tampa Police Department.
Tampa For Justice spent months collecting stories of residents from all walks of life, telling their experiences with Tampa Police. The coalition researched policing practices in other cities and reviewed the results of the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The information was presented to city officials along with recommendations that would promote building trust and respect between Tampa neighborhoods and the police, ensuring transparency and accountability of the police, and creating a citizen-led board that could review and oversee Tampa’s policing policies
Just as it looked like the CRB matter would be voted on and passed by City Council, then Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn—who, at that point, had been highly dismissive of the idea of a CRB—stepped in and announced he would create his own CRB and that he alone would appoint the members.
In a phone call with CL before Castor's press conference, City Council Chair Maniscalco said that on Wednesday, council—along with some council attorneys and Castor’s Chief of Staff—virtually reviewed the agenda of a July 16 council meeting that was canceled due to coronavirus concerns. A purely informational staff report regarding changes to the CRB was discussed, but Maniscalco said “there was no indication that the mayor was going to move forward with recommendations from the report or take the CRB under her authority.”
Maniscalco had no clue about Castor’s intentions to have an announcement about proposed changes to the CRB until activist-journalist Benjamin told him about the mayor’s plan. Maniscalco was unsure of what Castor’s announcement will bring, but he assumed Castor would read off what was read to council during the aforementioned virtual agenda review.
He hoped that any changes to the CRB will involve real citizen input, and a back and forth between the mayor and city council.
“I hope today is informational, you know, “This is what the administration is suggesting, these are some recommendations,’ and then we go from there,” Maniscalco said.
CL called the office of City Councilman Orlando Gudes, who made a motion during the June 4 council meeting to give the current review board more teeth, to see if he had more info—the mailbox was full, but Gudes is recovering after testing positive for coronavirus.
UPDATED: 07/16/20 6 p.m. Updated with comments from Council Chair Maniscalco and information from a press release sent by Tampa For Justice.
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