TAMPA —Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announced proposed changes to the city’s Citizen Review Board Thursday that she said would make it more responsive and transparent.
But the mayor stopped short of meeting activists’ demands that control over board appointments be given to the City Council or that the board be given independent investigatory powers.
Castor later told the Tampa Bay Times she didn’t think the board had shown a need for more council control. She said that a similar agency in Miami with independent attorneys cost much more but didn’t have any more effectiveness, due to a 2017 Florida Supreme Court decision that subpoena powers for such boards violated existing state law.
Castor announced in a City Hall news conference that the volunteer police oversight panel would add two seats: one for the NAACP and another for a criminologist from either the University of South Florida or the University of Tampa.
That was the highlight of a list of proposed changes, including:
- The panel would be involved in making hiring recommendations along with current and retired Tampa police officers.
- The board would also be empowered to examine closed police misconduct cases where discipline has not yet been decided and recommend actions to Police Chief Brian Dugan.
- Board meetings would also be livestreamed and held on a rotating basis around the city.
“It’s my hope that these changes will empower the Citizen Review Board to continue fostering transparency, increasing accountability and strengthening that bond of trust and respect between the Tampa Police Department and the community they serve,” Castor said.
But the mayor continues to hold the power to appoint the majority of the 11-member board. When asked why she believed it was important to hold on to that power, Castor said: “This body has been in place for quite some time and I haven’t seen any issues. I think it’s worked well so far.”
James Shaw Jr. ‚an attorney with the ACLU, took issue with Castor’s interpretation of the state Supreme Court ruling.
”The D’Agastino case did not hold that cities can’t create boards with subpoena power, only that they can’t issue subpoenas to an officer facing discipline. Nothing in D’Agastino precludes subpoenas to anyone else – civilian witnesses and officers who are not facing discipline – and that power is essential because, if an internal-affairs investigation leaves stones unturned, the civilian-review board needs to be able to ask questions that haven’t been asked and interview witnesses that haven’t been interviewed by the internal-affairs investigators,” wrote Shaw in an email.
Castor said she would work with council members to implement the changes to the existing ordinance, created in 2015 after a protracted battle between former Mayor Bob Buckhorn and council members. She said council members had been briefed and were supportive.
Nationwide demands for more accountability and police reform have resurfaced strongly since the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Current Citizen Review Board Chairman Rasheed Ali Aquil said Castor’s ideas should be given a chance to work.
“Let’s allow the program to take its time and due diligence,” Aquil said.”Working together we can all create a better city.”
Originally scheduled for 10:30 a.m., Castor’s news conference had been delayed for several hours. Before it began shortly after 1 p.m., NAACP president Yvette Lewis called on Castor to hold off on announcing any changes until further work could be done with activists and community members.
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“Some of the stuff is a step in the right direction,” Lewis told the Tampa Bay Times. “I just don’t understand the rush to do all this. She just needs to wait. Personally, I just feel like it needs to wait until we get it right instead of piecing it out.”
Lewis thinks the majority of appointments should rest with City Council members.
“They’re more in touch with their own community,” she said.
Council member Bill Carlson said City Attorney Gina Grimes has scheduled an afternoon meeting to meet with him and activists, A previous meeting was canceled recently, he said.
After Castor’s comments, Carlson signaled he may he open to further changes on the panel.
“The mayor has taken a good first step in addressing this important issue that was created in a flawed and unnecessarily divisive process five years ago. I look forward to hearing community feedback and making changes accordingly with my colleagues on City Council,” he wrote in a text.
Activist Kelly Benjamin said the board needs independent investigatory powers as well as city council control of its composition.
On behalf of the group Tampa For Justice, which fought for the creation of the board in 2015, Benjamin said in a news release that anything less would “perpetuating a sham.”
The City Council had scheduled a discussion on the future of the board for Thursday before Chairman Guido Maniscalco cancelled the meeting, citing public health concerns amid a resurgence of coronavirus in the city.
Although the news conference was streamed virtually, a Times reporter who showed up at City Hall was allowed to attend in person. During the event, Castor answered four questions submitted through spokeswoman Ashley Bauman from Spectrum Bay News 9 and Creative Loafing.
Meanwhile, about a dozen protesters gathered outside the mayor’s office, demanding to be let inside.
“Mayor Jane Castor has played games all morning,” said Jae Passmore, one of the activists denied entry, saying Castor had delayed the news conference to avoid protesters who seek to hold her accountable. “It’s completely unfair to be able to pick and choose what members of the media should be able to attend press conferences. What constitutes a member of the press?”
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