The Tampa Police Department is considering withdrawing from a resident crime patrol program in the College Hill and Ponce de Leon public housing complexes because it disagrees with the way the coordinator is running the program.
Capt. Sam Jones said program coordinator Stanley Henry has been violating rules by not calling police when criminal activity has been observed.
"If we have a coordinator advising resident patrol members not to alert the police, we have a problem," Jones said.
But Henry denies that, and other patrol members say they were never told not to report crimes to the police.
Meanwhile, some officials with the Tampa Housing Authority say the Police Department's concerns also may stem from the involvement of Henry and eight other patrol members in the Nation of Islam, a controversial black religious sect that has feuded with Tampa police in the past.
"You are going to have people who have some type of concern and anxiety over the Nation of Islam," said housing authority spokeswoman Lisa Landers. "But we don't feel that is pertinent to their job as patrol members."
Henry and the eight others joined the Resident Patrol Program about two months ago. The program has 28 members who are paid to walk the streets of the housing communities and report problems to police. The program, which gives residents jobs as they protect their neighborhoods, is run by the Tampa Housing Authority and financed through a federal grant.
Tampa Police Chief Bennie Holder called an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss the Police Department's concerns. Officials from the housing authority were unable to attend.
Debbie Johnson, who oversees the program for the housing authority, was surprised an emergency meeting was scheduled, Landers said. The two agencies met less than a week ago to iron out problems and officials had not heard of any more.
"I'm surprised by a lot of what transpired in the last week and a half," Landers said. "Members of the Nation of Islam live in public housing, and they have expressed an interest in helping us achieve our goals with the program."
When he patrols, Henry wears the signature Nation of Islam attire of a suit and bow tie instead of the resident patrol uniform. He has been given permission to do so by the Tampa Housing Authority, Landers said.
Henry said he has never had problems with Tampa police in regard to the Nation of Islam because he rarely deals directly with the police. The patrols notify a radio dispatcher when they see a crime, and the dispatcher calls a police unit.
"I never had a relationship with the Police Department to know if they discriminate against me," Henry said. "But we want to establish a good relationship with the Police Department so we can clean up the neighborhood we live in.
"You can look at the stack of reports I have. Maybe (the program) is a little unorganized, but I couldn't lay the blame on the resident patrols or the police."
Florence Bess, a patrol member not affiliated with the Nation of Islam, complained that sometimes the Tampa police X-Ray squad, which covers the area, doesn't respond promptly to calls from the resident patrol.
But Jones, the police captain, said he had information from both resident patrol members and X-Ray squad officers that Henry was breaking the program's rules by not reporting criminal activity.
Jones denied that the Police Department's concerns were related to the Nation of Islam.
"It's them as individuals and their effectiveness as resident patrols" that are of concern, he said.
Marzuq Al-Hakim, a community activist and a Muslim, was concerned when he heard about the Police Department's criticism of Henry. He said the accusations against him probably have to do with his religious beliefs.
"The Police Department and the Muslims have a long history here," Al-Hakim said. He mentioned a rally that the Rev. James X, the local Muslim leader, helped organize in the N Boulevard Homes housing complex last summer on the heels of a police shooting of a black robbery suspect. City officials, afraid that violence would break out, opposed the rally.
Later, Holder and Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman refused to appear on a television talk show if James X remained in the audience.
"There's a rift. A clear tension," Al-Hakim said. "You could probably cut it with a knife."
A meeting between the Tampa Police Department, Tampa Housing Authority and Resident Patrol members scheduled for this morning had been canceled, Landers said. She did not know why.
"We are very pleased with the way the program is running," Landers said. "We hope to resolve these concerns."
_ Times staff writers Lisa Frederick and Paul de la Garza contributed to this story.