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Police update sparks new concerns on Tampa council over ticketing black bicyclists

Chairman Frank Reddick asked Police Chief Brian Dugan whether he had a geographic or racial breakdown for the stops. Dugan said he didn't. Dugan said he didn’t.
Tampa police slowed down the number of tickets they issued bicyclists in the wake of a Times investigation that found most of the tickets went to blacks. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2015)]
Published Sep. 6, 2018
Updated Sep. 6, 2018

TAMPA — A divisive policing strategy that targeted bicycle riders who are black drew fire again at the Tampa City Council meeting Thursday and the city's upcoming mayoral election provided some of the fuel.

The Tampa Police Department said the practice has been discontinued since it was publicly revealed by the Tampa Bay Times in 2015, but police have been required since then to submit an annual report to the City Council on practices regarding the ticketing of bicyclists.

Police Chief Brian Dugan was delivering that report at Thursday's meeting when Chairman Frank Reddick asked Dugan whether he had a geographic or racial breakdown for the stops.

Dugan said he didn't.

Reddick called that unacceptable, saying police had abused their power by targeting black people and he wanted to make sure it isn't still happening.

Reddick, who is black, helped lead the call for policing reforms in the wake of the newspaper's report.

"I just merely brought the same (type of) report that Chief Ward brought for two straight years," Dugan replied, referring to former police chief Eric Ward. Ward retired in July 2017.

During the past year, Dugan told council members, police issued 650 warnings and 97 citations for bike violations such as failure to display a headlight. The numbers are about the same as the year before, he said.

The discussion veered into mayoral politics.

Reddick is a supporter of David Straz, one in a crowded field of candidates seeking to replace term-limited Mayor Bob Buckhorn in a March 5 election.
Another candidate is Jane Castor, chief of police when the so-called "biking while black" controversy broke. Castor told the Times earlier this year that the policy had been a mistake.

That wasn't enough, Reddick said.

Castor, the front runner in recent polling on the mayor's race. never apologized to Tampa's black community, he said.

"That's a disgrace. And this person wants to be mayor?"

In a statement to the Times later Thursday, Castor said that though it was "well-intentioned," the strategy's results were "completely unacceptable."

She said she was "incredibly distressed both professionally and personally" when she realized the bike tickets were increasing tension in the city's black community. She said she had learned from her mistake.

In 2015, Chief Castor told the Times that police deliberately targeted cyclists in certain high-crime neighborhoods to curb crime, hoping to catch individuals with a stolen bike or drugs or to scare thieves away.

"This is not a coincidence," she said then. "Many individuals receiving bike citations are involved in criminal activity."

Two City Council members, Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, also are running for mayor and weighed in on the ticketing practice at Thursday's meeting.

Cohen asked Dugan to provide data reaching back to 2013 so that council members could better evaluate whether things had improved. Suarez said that without knowing the racial and geographic breakdown of the stops, the police report "means nothing."

Council members voted unanimously to have Dugan return Oct. 18 with a report including race of the offender, reason for the stop and where it occurred.

Dugan said his department has improved from scrutiny of the ticketing practice, including a U.S. Department of Justice report. He said his officers only stop bike riders for legal reasons — those who fit the description of a suspect, for example.