At today’s city council meeting, two groups of people showed up to speak for and against Tampa’s controversial crime-free multi-housing program, which has flagged around 1,100 people for eviction over the past eight years—90% of whom were Black.
Tampa Police Department (TPD) Chief Ruben “Butch” Delgado was asked during the meeting if TPD had driven any of the speakers who were in support of the program there in order to influence the council.
“Several folks in the community have alleged that TPD or the city picked up people in neighborhoods this morning and brought them to city council to speak,” Councilman Bill Carlson said. “Was there a program by the city or TPD to try to sway city council today as to the outcome of this?”
Delgado replied immediately.
“No sir and I’m not sure what you’re, with the driving...I don’t know, but I can tell you, um, we’re not trying to sway anything. They had people that were passionate and wanted to give their opinion,” Delgado said.
But outside, photos taken by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay show a TPD officer walking someone who spoke in favor of keeping the program back to the police department car lot. And while CL was interviewing Lorine Wright, who also spoke in favor of the program at the meeting, TPD Public Safety Information Coordinator Jamel Lanee came out of city hall to give her a ride home.
Wright, who TPD also tapped for a Twitter post earlier this month to defend the program, told CL that Lanee contacted her via phone call to speak in favor of the program at today’s meeting. Wright said she asked TPD what she should talk about in regard to the program, adding that she was guided by the department on how to discuss the way her community has been affected by the crime-free housing program.
“They told me I could talk about how it was then, and how it is now,” Wright told CL outside of city hall.
During public comment, Wright said TPD had helped clean up the crime in Robles Park Village and that the police help keep her safe and happy. She added that she supported the “crime-free housing” program, but said that it also shouldn’t tear apart families through evictions.
She said her overall rating of TPD: 8 out of 10.
While CL was speaking with Wright, two people emerged from the city hall building, laughing. They were Lanee and Vanessa Nettingham, Social Media Engagement Coordinator for TPD.
“There’s my car,” Wright said, acknowledging Lanee.
“I’ll let you get this interview, get this side of the story,” Lanee told CL.
Wright echoed her public comment to city council but said her feelings on the program are mixed. She said that for things to get any better, the city needs to address its education, affordable housing issues, and other police programs that are supposed to build up the community.
She said TPD’s Resources in Community Hope program is “a joke.” According to the program’s website, the centers located in Robles Park and Sulphur Springs are meant to be “a safe haven for kids in the city's most economically challenged areas.” Wright says the program isn’t helping like it should. “You won’t see no kids in there,” she said. She suggested adding more funding to this program to help her neighborhood.
At the end of the interview with CL, Wright walked with Lanee back to her car to get a ride home.
CL reached out to TPD to clarify this situation and asked if Delgado was just confused about TPD officers and officials driving people to the council meeting that day. We asked how many people TPD picked up to bring to the city council and how many of those were there to speak in favor of the program.
There has been no response yet, but we’ll update this post if we receive one.
Later on in the city council meeting, Council Chairman Orlando Gudes said he was aware that police drove people to the council meeting to speak in favor of TPD’s program.
“I got senior citizens coming here,” Gudes, who retired from TPD after 26 years, said. “I understand the police department, they do that, when they have an issue. They bring people who, those folks they don’t have cars, so, they brought those people.”
Gudes, who initially called for a suspension to the program so it could be reviewed, seemed to change his mind at the meeting and went on a passionate speech about keeping the program with its reforms. He mentioned anecdotal “bullies” in the community.
About the bullies, he said, “Hell no I don’t want them in there, I want them out. Their kids and all.”
Some who were evicted under the crime-free multi-housing program were never convicted of a crime. The program, even with reforms announced by Mayor Castor last weekend, does not address the issue that innocent people can lose their homes. Nor do the reforms address the collective punishment the program enacts. Under the program, a teenager can commit a crime, and a notice about the arrest will be sent by police to a landlord.
The landlord can then decide whether or not to evict everyone in the house for the alleged crime. As a public speaker pointed out at a recent police Citizen’s Review Board meeting, this type of behavior toward Tampa citizens would violate the Geneva Convention, which does not allow for collective punishment during wartime. (The City of Tampa is not beholden to the Geneva Convention.)
The council eventually voted unanimously in favor of letting Delgado report back before Dec. 2 with information on how TPD will notify landlords and give council data regarding how crime-free housing has reduced crime.
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