After weeks of near non-stop protests, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announced a few new standards and practices for the city’s police department.
In a Friday morning Facebook Live conference, Castor announced three new initiatives that will be effective immediately at the Tampa Police Department.
Castor says going forward all investigations involving officer-involved shootings will be led by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, rather than internally. "This step will safeguard the accountability, transparency, and objectivity of those investigations," said Castor. "The Tampa Police Department will continue to conduct the administrative interviews of police-involved shootings."
"Officers are granted the power to take away someone's freedom and to use deadly force when they feel it's necessary to protect themselves, or the life if others. It is the city of Tampa's duty to ensure the investigation is unbiased and beyond reproach," Castor added.
Castor also announced the creation of an official duty-to-intervene policy if an officer witnesses another officer using excessive force.
"This has gone on through decades, but now is codified in policy," said Castor. She also reiterated Tampa Police's existing ban on the carotid restraint, AKA the chokehold. "The department banned the use of the chokehold more than 30 years ago. But now that is spelled out in policy," Castor added.
Lastly, the mayor says she is creating a new task force called "The Mayor's Community Task Force on Policing," that will look at national best practices in policing and then review TPD’s policies and procedures to identify what is being done well and what needs to be fixed.
"The task force will have approximately 40 members from throughout the community and the police department, including but not limited to grassroots organizations community leaders, business owners Neighborhood Association members, and the police department, from the police department."
The task force is set to meet on June 27 and July 18.
Castor said members will be split into small groups and that work will be helped along by moderators from the University of South Florida. Community members will also have the opportunity to participate by sending in questions and concerns, according to Castor.
"Ultimately, the group will present the findings, and we will have a plan of how TPD will implement recommended changes," Castor said. When asked for specifics on the changes—like how to add teeth to a much-criticized community review board—Castor told members of the media that "we're looking at anything and everything."
"I believe good can come from these difficult times that we are in right now. I believe we can move forward toward a new level of connection and partnership with our community members," said Castor. "The first step is listening and hearing the community concerns, and then, affecting real change."
Over the past few weeks, local protesters have responded to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis law enforcement, by calling for a variety of changes at the Tampa Police Department. "It will create an opportunity for open, two-way communication between officers and community members," said Castor.
Castor's Friday announcement came after multiple meeting with Black community leaders and some discussions with a members of some Black Lives Matter protests.
Over the past weeks, protesters have claimed that Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan and his officers met peaceful protests with violence and excessive force. “Despite their claims, they have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and mace on peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment,” said a recent flyer from protest leader Emadi Okwusa. “Nationally the police force has exhibited Discriminative policies, disregarded de-escalation and have abused their authority as well as our tax dollars to instill fear among the people.”
Before she was elected mayor, Castor was the Chief of Police of the Tampa Police Department from 2009 to 2015. A Tampa Bay Times investigation found that under her watch, TPD overly targeted Black men, in an operation that was dubbed "Biking While Black.” The investigation found that over a three year period, Castor’s police force issued 2,504 bike tickets, 80% of which went to Black people.
It’s worth nothing that Castor didn’t acknowledge that the operation was a mistake until 2018, just before she announced her run for mayor’s office.
Castor’s department also dramatically ramped up militarization, partially due to a $50 million federal security grant for the 2012 Republican National Convention.
In recent weeks, Tampa City Council approved $952,000 to purchase more than 600 body cameras (although it remains to be seen how they will be used or if they’ll be on all the time).
Next week, City Council is expected to start discussing the reformation of a police Citizen Review Board that was built to fail.
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