Chief Jane Castor's new plan for sharpening Tampa's police operations with a Professional Standards Bureau has significant potential and should complement the scrutiny the department already receives externally. Most importantly, if the bureau is sincere in its efforts, its work should go a long way toward ensuring the department is in the best possible shape as Castor prepares to hand over the reins next year.
The new bureau will consist of four lieutenants who will conduct "mini-audits" over the next several months focused on the department's use of force and vehicle pursuits, complaints and quality of service, policies, procedures and report writing, and vehicles and equipment. Castor has said, for example, that the bureau will look for patterns in complaints so police can be more proactive and prevent problems. Success will come when complaints decrease, officer reports improve and the agency has a uniform system of checks and balances, Castor said.
This is the right time to send a message of greater accountability. Castor's tenure has seen a steady drop in crime due largely to a methodical approach to targeting four crimes: burglary, robbery, auto burglary and auto theft. She presided over security efforts during a relatively arrest-free Republican National Convention. But the past year has been marked by a number of controversies in the ranks, resulting in the dismissal of five officers.
Most notably, Castor fired the head of the DUI unit after he was found to have participated in what appeared to be a setup arrest. Separately, an officer lost his job after spending several hours at a strip club while logged into work. Another officer was let go for lying to law enforcement about driving while intoxicated. That officer's indiscretions surfaced because he was involved in the investigation of Matthew Moye, a dentist who killed two pedestrians while driving drunk in 2010. Prosecutors ultimately struck a 12-year plea deal with Moye because of poor policing. Each of these cases showed a breakdown in professionalism and the command, which Castor's reforms have the potential to address.
Castor is rightly staying engaged in a period when she could coast toward retirement. She was supposed to leave her post in May as part of the city's retirement program. But she agreed to stay on as chief for another year at the request of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. She appears committed to making sure that the department is in shipshape for her successor.