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Police Chief Brian Dugan on race and policing in Tampa: ‘Let’s rip the band-aid off’

Dugan defended his officers, insisting that racial targeting is not involved in the high proportion of bicycle citations that go to black. Frank Reddick, the City Council's only African-American member, remained unpersuaded.

TAMPA — Police Chief Brian Dugan and City Council chairman Frank Reddick sparred at a City Council meeting Thursday over citations police are issuing to black bicyclists.

Dugan defended his officers, insisting that racial targeting is not involved. Reddick, the seven-member council's only African-American member, remained unpersuaded.

So far this calendar year, 24 out of 33 bicycle-related citations went to black males, and black males were riding during 1,527 of the 2,294 bicycle stops police have made.

Dugan said most of the stops occur at night and early morning after bicyclists are observed riding without lights or running red lights.

"Are you targeting black neighborhoods?" Reddick asked. "Are you going into the black community and stopping black males? I'll be damned if they're going into the white community at that time in the morning. They'll be shot."

Frank Reddick, City Council Chairman, sparred Thursday with police Chief Brian Dugan over policing practices. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
Frank Reddick, City Council Chairman, sparred Thursday with police Chief Brian Dugan over policing practices. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
His constituents in east Tampa are fed up, Reddick said after the meeting.
“They’re very upset.”

Dugan's responded by pointing to other sets of data: 75 percent of DUI arrests involve white people, he said, and whites were more likely to be given speeding tickets on Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa than black motorists were on North 40th Street.

Police make most bike stops in high-crime areas as part of their policing strategy, Dugan said, in the same way they conduct DUI patrols in the popular South Howard Avenue entertainment area and ticket speeders on scenic, four-lane Bayshore.

"Just because there is a disparity in numbers doesn't mean there's a bias," he said.

At issue was an annual report of bike stops ordered by the City Council after a 2015 Tampa Bay Times investigation showed Tampa police gave out more bike tickets than Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando and St. Petersburg combined. The overwhelming majority of those stopped were black.

Last month, when Dugan provided the annual report without a racial or geographic breakdown, he was met with rebuke by Reddick and by council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen, both of them mayoral candidates.

A racial and geographic breakdown had not been included in reports during previous years nor had council members asked for them until the September council meeting.

The discussion in September turned political when Reddick implied that Jane Castor, the police chief when the policy came to light, should have apologized to the black community.

Dugan addressed the political undertones Thursday: "It is political season and it's going to be harder for my voice to get heard over everybody else's."

Castor, who polls have pegged as the front runner in the March 5 election, has said the policy was a mistake. Reddick is a prominent supporter of another candidate, retired banker and philanthropist David Straz Jr.

On Thursday, during a 40-minute discussion punctuated by heated exchanges, Reddick repeatedly asked Dugan to stay on the topic of bicyclist stops. Dugan said limiting the debate to bike stops would be unfair.

"Let's rip the band-aid off" said Dugan, shedding his normal laid-back demeanor. "You can pick and choose what you like, but it doesn't paint the big picture."

Reddick said Dugan was "trying to play a game."

The council should end the discussion and move on, Reddick said.

"You don't run council," Reddick added.

Dugan, in a rare move for a city department head, ignored Reddick and asked if any other council members wanted to hear what he had to say.

Yvonne Yolie Capin said she did, but she appealed for a more civil discussion.

Council member Charlie Miranda said police officers have a hard job made even harder "nowadays," in an apparent reference to the national discussion on race and policing.

Dugan said the department improved its policing practices after the Times report and a subsequent U.S. Department of Justice investigation.

"I have to question how long we're going to continue to beat this horse," he said.

The police department appears to have improved its behavior, Capin said, but monitoring remains necessary.

Before the Times story, she said, the numbers of blacks being stopped on bikes were "off the charts."

After the meeting, Reddick said his concerns about bike stops had nothing to do with the mayoral election or his support of Straz. Instead, he said, he wants a better explanation about why police are stopping so many black men on bikes.

Still, he said, "This is going to be a major political issue in the mayoral campaign."