Tampa Mayor Jane Castor unveils police reforms

The mayor said all future officer-involved shooting will be investigated by the state law enforcement agency.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announces police reforms at a Friday news conference.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announces police reforms at a Friday news conference. [ Charlie Frago ]
Published June 19, 2020|Updated June 19, 2020

TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor announced Friday a number of police reforms, including that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will investigate all police shootings in her city effective immediately.

Previously, the Tampa Police Department investigated all shootings involving its officers.

“This step will ensure a thorough and impartial investigation to determine if the law was followed during any use of force,” Castor said.

The mayor, who served as the city’s police chief from 2009-15, said she didn’t know the number of officer-involved shootings over the past year, but “it is less than you think.” She estimated that it was in the single digits.

Castor announced the new measures at a City Hall news conference. Those include written procedures that would require police officers to intervene if they witness excessive force being used by other officers; and to codify that officers are barred from using chokeholds.

Those measures have been in practice for decades, she said, but hadn’t been put in writing until now.

Related: How ‘defund the police’ went mainstream, and what that means

Castor says she realizes there is a lot of tension within the community over policing after George Floyd was killed May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer. His death, and the deaths of other unarmed black people killed by police, have prompted protests here and nationwide.

She said it is important for city and police officials to hear the protesters out.

“It is the Tampa Police Department’s duty to listen and learn from them,” Castor said.

To that end, Castor announced the formation of a 40-member task force of community leaders, business owners, neighborhood association leaders and police officers — including police union officials — to review current police practices and figure out what needs to change.

The task force will meet on June 27 and July 18 and will continue to meet as long as needed, she said.

“Now is the time for us to have uncomfortable but necessary conversations that are needed to affect meaningful change in our community,” Castor said.

Asked if she has met with Black Lives Matter protest leaders, Castor said she has several times and plans to meet with them again this weekend.

The mayor was asked if she would let a statewide prosecutor look into accusations of misconduct by Tampa officers.

“That’s something we could discuss,” she said.

When asked about “defunding” the police department and using that money to bolster social services like mental health, Castor said it wouldn’t be prudent to cut the department’s budget before having those other services in place.

But, she said, only about 10 percent of police calls involve violent crime. The rest are a mixture of health, social services and mental health issues. Lessening that kind of burden on police would be helpful.

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“That would be the eventual goal,” she said.

Last week, Castor told the Tampa Bay Times that she didn’t plan on cutting the police department’s budget in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Related: Castor isn't on board with defunding the police

Activists have called for an overhaul of the city’s Citizen Review Board, which was formed in 2015 after a Times investigation showed black bicyclists were being disproportionately ticketed by Tampa police. Castor has since apologized for the practice, which was implemented when she ran the department.

Calls for giving City Council control of most of the 11-member appointments and enabling the board to independently investigate claims of police misconduct have been amplified by activists during the recent protests.

Castor didn’t commit to any of those proposals Friday, saying “I support the review of that process.”

The mayor said she is open to community input and is ready to listen to all suggestions: “We’re looking at anything and everything.”

• • •

Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times

HOW TO SUPPORT: Whether you’re protesting or staying inside, here are ways to educate yourself and support black-owned businesses.

WHAT PROTESTERS WANT: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful.

WHAT ARE NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local and national protests.

WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.

CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.

HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.