An overhaul of the Tampa Police Department has been on the hearts and minds of protesters, activists and many on the city payroll since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer. A lot’s happened on the streets—and in other American city halls—in the eight weeks since May 25, but those looking for an aggressive reimagining of TPD are still looking for something to be happy about.
And that’s why so many cop watchers tuned into a surprise July 16 press conference from Tampa Mayor Jane Castor who took to her podium to announce her proposed changes to a controversial and toothless Citizen Review Board (CRB) created in 2015. Castor made no less than a dozen suggestions regarding the CRB, its membership, the duties of its coordinator and administrative duties.
In comments following Castor’s surprise presser, Tampa City Council Chair Guido Maniscalco—who was relieved to learn that council would have to approve changes—called Creative Loafing Tampa Bay to say which suggestions he liked, and which ones he thought deserved to be re-examined. One of his strongest opinions centered around appointments to 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.
And in its own July 16 press release, Tampa For Justice (TFJ, 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. Attached to the TFJ release was an eight-page proposed ordinance presented to Tampa City Council by the NAACP and ACLU.
Jamie Klapholz is an attorney who assisted with drafting the proposed ordinance submitted on behalf of the ACLU, NAACP, and Tampa for Justice. She does not speak for any organizations specifically, but she looked at Castor’s proposed changes and compared them to the proposed ordinance and TFJ’s bulleted list of demands. A protracted back and forth between the mayor’s office and city council, could be in store, but here’s what Klapholz thought:
The ability of the CRB to take complaints from the public about TPD and voting on whether to investigate each complaint
Klapholz: While the mayor's proposal provides for establishment of a citizen review board (CRB) email address where "Complaints concerning allegations of police officer misconduct may be submitted[,]" there is no mention of the CRB's authority to conduct its own investigation of any complaint. There is also no mention of how the CRB email address would be publicized.
Receiving a report any time a TPD officer's firearm is discharged and voting on whether to investigate each report
Klapholz: The mayor's proposal does not include this demand. However, the mayor's proposal does provide that the CRB would get a redacted list of all new complaints received by TPD on a monthly basis, and presumably that would include any complaint concerning discharge of an officer's firearm. Under the mayor's proposal, the CRB would have no authority to conduct investigations of any kind.
Discretion to investigate other matters involving TPD
Klapholz: The mayor's proposal does not include this demand. While the mayor's proposal does authorize the CRB to "review matters of importance or interest," it does not specify whether such a "review" would include the ability to independently collect information by subpoena or otherwise.
Investigatory powers including ability to to order discovery, hold evidentiary hearings, and issue subpoenas for documents and witness testimony under oath
Klapholz: The mayor's proposal does not include this demand. This is the primary difference between our proposal and the mayor's proposal. The mayor's proposal does not provide the CRB with any investigatory powers at all.
Issue recommendations to TPD and/or the mayor at the conclusion of each investigation
Klapholz: While the mayor's proposal does not provide authority for the CRB to conduct investigations, it does state that the CRB may report findings and make recommendations to the mayor and chief of police.
The mayor and/or TPD Chief would be required to adopt or respond to each recommendation
Klapholz: Under the mayor's proposal, "When the Board submits a written recommendation to the Chief of Police concerning department policies and procedures, the Chief of Police must respond to the CRB recommendation in writing within thirty (30) days and indicate whether the recommendation has been accepted and implemented or indicate the reasons why the recommendation was not accepted or implemented." There is no similar provision regarding recommendations to the mayor or other types of recommendations to the chief of police.
Staffed by an independent attorney, independent investigators, administrative staff
Klapholz: The mayor's proposal does not provide for the CRB to have any independent staff. Instead, the mayor proposes that the CRB be staffed with a coordinator designated by the chief of police. This is a major concern because the CRB is currently staffed by a TPD designee who exercises control over the meeting agendas and all information that the CRB receives.
Sufficient funding in the city's budget to carry out its duties and exercise its powers
Klapholz: The mayor's proposal does not provide for any CRB funding at all.
Klapholz isn’t the only one who thinks Castor’s proposed changes fall short.
In a text message to CL, Emadi Okwuosa, a leader within the Tampa protest movement, said the CRB was only introduced as a way for politicians to save face once they've messed up, citing how it was only created in the wake of a 2015 investigation which found that over a three year period, Castor’s police force issued 2,504 bike tickets, 80% of which went to Black people. He also agreed with Council Chair Maniscalco’s reservations about barring anyone who’s been arrested from serving on the CRB.
“[It’s] a backhanded way to silence the community. I can speak from first hand experience that the Tampa Police Department is targeting organizers and leaders among the community,” Okwuosa said “By arresting them and turning them into felons they are systematically stripping us of our rights and voice of change. They've arrested multiple powerful Tampa advocates and those are multiple voices who won’t be heard in this CRB.”
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