Tampa City Council wants voters to decide if citizens police review board should have subpoena power

The move by council comes after an approved 18.5% raise for TPD.

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City of Tampa/Twitter
Tampa City Hall

Yesterday, Tampa City Council voted to have the city's legal team craft an ordinance that could let the voters decide if the Police Citizen Review Board (CRB) should have subpoena power when reviewing cases of police misconduct.

Councilwoman Lynn Hurtak made the motion, which was seconded by Bill Carlson. Council voted 5-1  in favor, with councilman Luis Viera being absent from the vote and Council Chair Joe Citro voting no.

Hurtak asked that the ordinance be brought to a Sept. 22 meeting, so that the measure can potentially be put on a March 2023 ballot.

"We had a vote by the CRB to recommend that we put subpoena power on the ballot and, effective policy requires trust from the community," Hurtak said. "Without accountability, there can be no trust. The citizens of Tampa should have the right to decide how do they want to build that trust."

Earlier this week, the CRB voted 6-3 to recommend to council that the city put subpoena power on the ballot for the voters to decide on, after several members of the community asked for more accountability from TPD.
Subpoena power could help make the board more effective in its job of reviewing cases of police misconduct. It would allow the CRB to call for witness testimony—but not from the cops themselves, due to Florida law—and grant the board access to video footage, along with other types of evidence.

"We're not talking about punishing police officers or trying to subpoena police officers," Carlson said in his support of the motion. "It would be things like asking for cameras on a store that are available."

In the explanation of his dissenting vote, Citro seemed confused, and thought that the CRB's vote was to simply let council decide if the CRB should have subpoena power.

"The decision they made the other night wasn't them telling us what they want," Citro said. "The decision they made was, 'We'll leave it up to city council'."

However, that isn't true. At the meeting the CRB voted to recommend that city council put the matter of subpoena power on the ballot. The CRB doesn't have the power to create ordinances, city council does. So the board had to send their recommendation to city council for it to take action on it.

Councilman Orlando Gudes and Hurtak tried to correct Citro, but he told them, "Go back and look at it, go back and look at it."

Council's move to give the CRB subpoena power comes after it approved an 18.5% raise over the next three years for TPD yesterday, along with other first responders and Amalgamated Transit Union workers.

But as CL reported earlier this week, the raise for TPD—who already have a massive budget and whose starting pay is around double that of ATU workers—comes at a particularly troubling time for TPD.
Over the past couple of years, the department has been plagued with division over vaccines and wearing masks, even during the height of the pandemic. Last year alone, the department was caught up in at least 19 scandals that the public knows of, as violent crimes such as homicide surged in Tampa.

This year, the controversies are piling up again. This month, TPD was caught using a spying tactic to pursue crimes; critics call the tactic unconstitutional. Last month, officers were caught making fun of a dog shooting that occurred at the hands of TPD and an officer accused his supervisor of imposing DUI quotas, leading to allegedly improper arrests.

And the city is currently under federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for TPD’s “crime free multi-housing” program, which targeted mainly Black renters for eviction.

Not to mention that police historically have a controversial place in the labor movement. Police have a long history of brutally breaking up labor actions of workers and repressing workers’ rights, particularly those of Black, brown, and immigrant workers. And law enforcement union contracts often contain special protections that can shield officers from accountability.

Some rank-and-file union members have even called for the removal of police unions, demanding that the AFL-CIO Executive Council disaffiliate from the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA) and other police unions.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia previously wrote for the USA Today Network, The Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Scalawag Magazine, and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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