Tampa bike stop numbers continue to drop
The number of bicyclists stopped by police and ticketed continues to decline as a result of a change in tactics by the Tampa Police Department.
"We’ve tried to focus more on our education piece versus citation," Police Chief Eric Ward told the City Council last week. "I think having the officers understand the mission and the goals that we’re trying to achieve is the key to the numbers that we’re seeing trending down."
Ward was named police chief in early May 2015, less than three weeks after the Tampa Bay Times reported that an analysis of more than 10,000 bicycle tickets Tampa police issued over the course of a dozen years. The newspaper found that even though blacks make up about a quarter of the city's population, they received 79 percent of the bike tickets. In the most recent three years studied Tampa officers issued more tickets than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined.
A U.S. Justice Department review done in response to the Times' work concluded that the intent of the traffic stops wasn't discriminatory. Rather, officials said, it represented an effort to fight crime and enhance safety.
In fact, the Justice Department said, the practice accomplished neither goal. Instead, it burdened the black communities where the enforcement was focused.
The number of bike tickets written started to drop soon after Ward took office, telling officers early on to use their discretion and not worry about their statistics.
And after the initial drop last summer, the overall trend line has continued to go down. The total number of bike stops for the three months between May and July of this year is more than 35 percent lower than the same three months from 2015. The number of citations issued has dropped by nearly two-thirds, while the number of warnings has risen for the same time.