'Skateboarding is not a crime': Tampa City Council asks city to rethink plan to ticket skaters

City council asked legal staff to review the idea to ticket skateboarders and report back on September 1.

click to enlarge Edwin Velez skating the now demolished Bro Bowl. RIP. - Photo by Nick Nicks
Photo by Nick Nicks
Edwin Velez skating the now demolished Bro Bowl. RIP.

At last week's Tampa City Council meeting, several council members spoke up against proposed $75 tickets for skaters who ride in certain parts of the city.

At the meeting, Assistant City Attorney Mike Schmidt presented an amendment to an ordinance that criminalizes skateboarding in the City of Tampa.

The ordinance makes skating on any sidewalks in the Downtown Central Business District and several Ybor City sidewalks illegal, along with skating on any city street road or roadway (including bike lanes).

It also enforces the same rules for in-line and roller skaters, except with the strange caveat that these types of skaters are allowed to be in downtown between sunset and sunrise.

Since the ordinance was created in the ‘90s, it has allowed Tampa police to detain skaters and give them a notice to appear in court, which usually results in a fine. But Schmidt said that it's "extremely rare" that the ordinance is enforced, so the city proposed a different solution: ticket the skaters on the spot instead.

City council members were not on board.

"I'm just opposed to any of this, I would like to vote against this because I'm against it period," councilman Bill Carlson said. "But I'm conflicted because if it's better than it is now, then I might vote for it. But I mean, considering what happened with ‘Biking while Black,’ I don't feel comfortable doing something that's going to give tickets to kids."

Carlson was referring to a citation program overseen by then-police-chief Jane Castor, and investigated by the Department of Justice, which disproportionately targeted Black bicyclists for police stops, searches and tickets. A Tampa Bay Times investigation found that from 2003-2015, TPD wrote more than 10,000 bike tickets. Black people received 79% of those tickets despite being just 26% of the population.

Carlson also asked where the idea to give tickets to skaters came from. Schmidt said that tickets could technically be a lower penalty than what might happen if a skater was made to appear in court for violating the law.

But Schmidt had also just explained that the law was enforced extremely rarely. And his explanation didn't take into account that Tampa is a ticket happy city, which could lead to skaters receiving tickets they can't afford should the ordinance be passed. Recently, free street parking was removed in Ybor, leading to a 50% increase in parking tickets.

Tampa's zealous ticketing practices could easily be focused on skaters if the ordinance were to be adjusted, which left some on council uncomfortable with the entire ordinance.

Carlson suggested that the city legal staff take another look at the ordinance altogether to be "in line with what progressive cities are doing" and to provide suggestions on how to revise it to help the city become up to date with modern policies. The rest of council voted unanimously in agreement.

Eight years ago, St. Petersburg moved to end an archaic law that made skateboarding in downtown illegal. Cities like Portland and San Diego recognize skateboarding as a legitimate form of transportation, rather than criminalize it. What’s more is that skateboarding is now a full-on Olympic sport with nearly 9 million participants in the U.S.

"I know that it may be in the City of Tampa, but skateboarding is not a crime," councilwoman Lynn Hurtak said. "While [the tickets] may reduce the penalties in a way, I think the actual citation amounts are awfully high."

Councilman Charlie Miranda pointed out that the ordinance didn't make any sense because now there are electric scooters, onewheels and an array of other types of transportation that use city streets and sidewalks freely, without fear of being charged for a crime or receiving a ticket.

Councilman Maniscalco also chimed in, saying he had always dreamed about skating to city hall in a suit, and that this ordinance would make him worry about having the freedom to do that.

Councilchair Joe Citro referenced his four-wheeled youth.

"As a former thrasher, I can't support this," he said.