1. News

ACLU calls for stop to Tampa's bike stop program as police chief defends it

At a Wednesday briefing, Tampa police Chief Jane Castor defended the rate of bike citations issued.
Published Apr. 24, 2015

TAMPA — Flanked by top union officials, police Chief Jane Castor told the City Council on Thursday she "vehemently" disagrees with a Tampa Bay Times investigation questioning why black riders have gotten 80 percent of bike tickets written by police.

That said, Castor said her agency's ability to do its job is based on trust. That's why she asked the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Policing Office to do an independent review of Tampa's bike enforcement efforts.

"I don't apologize for the proactive nature of our officers," she said. But, "Police officers' power and authority comes from the trust of the citizens that we serve, and if the citizens don't trust that we're going to do the right thing, then we're powerless."

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP and about a dozen other groups applauded the move but called on Tampa to suspend the program immediately until the Justice Department does its review.

"These citations must stop," the ACLU's Joyce Hamilton Henry said, while federal officials examine the program's impact "on the constitutional rights of the people of Tampa as well as the costs of the program, which include community distrust, alienation from the police and the number of young black males who now needlessly have a criminal record."

The Times reported that in the last three years Tampa officers wrote 2,504 bicycle tickets, more than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined. The Times said Tampa police target cyclists in poor, black neighborhoods, stopping them for offenses such as not having a bike light or carrying someone on the handle bars, then seize on those minor violations to question and search people.

Castor said she is confident the Justice Department will find that Tampa officers enforce bicycle laws fairly and justly. She also said the agency has given out more than 2,000 bike lights and that cyclists get "many, many more" warnings than tickets.

Castor further defended the department against a generalized perception drawn from the bike citations. Last year, the department issued a total of 101,000 citations of all kinds: motor vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle. Twenty-nine percent of them went to African-Americans, who make up 26 percent of Tampa's population. Of the total, bicycle citations accounted for one-half of 1 percent of the total.

She acknowledged "an inordinate number" of those bicycle citations go to black riders, and "that's what we're going to look at, if there's an issue with that particular enforcement."

Along with reaching out to the Justice Department, Castor said she has met this week with representatives from the NAACP, the ACLU, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the League of United Latin American Citizens. In those, she said she learned the NAACP regularly hears bicycle-related complaints about police but has not passed them on.

As a result, Castor said the department will have an officer go to the NAACP office once a month to talk to anyone who wants to raise an issue about something going on in the community.

Council members welcomed the independent review but still brought up several concerns.

Chairman Frank Reddick, who represents East Tampa and part of West Tampa, said he paused when he read that only one bicyclist each was ticketed on Bayshore Boulevard and Davis Islands last year, and that each was black.

"That raises your eyebrows as an African-American," said Reddick, who said he got more than a half-dozen calls Sunday after the Times article appeared.

"I just don't want it to be that just because someone is African-American and is living in a high-crime area … that they stand the risk of being stopped and questioned," he said.

"I couldn't agree with you more," said Castor, who said officers are deployed based on the amount of crime in the area they patrol, and that they are tasked with knowing the people, the geography, the crime patterns and the repeat offenders in each neighborhood so they can make sound judgment calls in their encounters with residents.

Asked about the comments of judges who have questioned the department's ticket policy, Castor said she appreciates their perspective, but she said their neighborhoods may not have the same "quality of life" as those where her officers work.

"I'm not certain that the judges have had a homicide on their street and they haven't had to hit the floor when they heard bullets" fired outside their homes, she said.

Council member Lisa Montelione said officers shouldn't be evaluated on how many citations they write.

"We have no quota system," Castor said. "Their performance is gauged on their response to the particular neighborhoods that they're in."


  1. Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, accused of stabbing and killing John Travlos and Germana Morin aboard their houseboat in 2013, testified on his own behalf at his murder trial in Pinellas County this week. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    It took the jury about three hours to find Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria guilty. Next they must decide whether to send him to Florida’s death row.
  2. Harold Fritz, 75, was awarded the nation's highest and rarest honor, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in 1969. The Army lieutenant saved his platoon during an ambush in the Vietnam war. He spoke to students at Farnell Middle School in Tampa. MARLENE SOKOL  |  Times
    Harold Fritz wanted to talk about teachers’ salaries and education. The kids wanted selfies with one of the 71 living recipients of the nation’s highest honor.
  3. PDQ's new Trinity location features a self-serve sauce bar with seven signature sauces perfect for dipping chicken tenders. Courtesy of PDQ
    Both chains are expanding locally and held grand opening celebrations this month with giveaways and free food.
  4. Casey Cane has resigned as chair of Pinellas County’s Housing Finance Authority in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times story about his failure to disclose an arrest for a financial felony when he was 19. He also serves as a Palm Harbor fire commissioner. Casey Cane
    Casey Cane failed to disclose his arrest for a financial felony in 2006. He said he didn’t think he had to reveal that information.
  5. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor speaks to about 75 people Tuesday at a city conference on innovation and collaboration. (City of Tampa photo by Janelle McGregor) Janelle McGregor
    City Hall brought together startups and the nonprofits that nurture them for a discussion of possible ideas to improve city operations and service.
  6. Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView, use ground-penetrating radar to scan a portion of King High School campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Preliminary answers from the ground-penetrating radar could come as soon as next week.
  7. A federal judge gas stayed the Nov. 7 execution of death row inmate James Dailey, 73, for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. Tampa Bay Times
    Dailey was set to be put to death Nov. 7. A judge ordered his execution to be postponed to give his attorneys time to present their claims. But the state can appeal.
  8. Markeith Loyd, suspected of fatally shooting a Florida police officer, attends his initial court appearance Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, at the Orange County Jail, in Orlando, Fla. Loyd spoke out of turn and was defiant during the appearance on charges of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend. He was injured during his arrest Tuesday night following a weeklong manhunt.
    The same jury found Loyd guilty last week of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting 24-year-old Sade Dixon outside her home in 2016.
  9. The new owner of a dilapidated mobile home park on Gandy Boulevard has sued the city of Tampa over a record-setting fine levied against the property for a massive tree removal in August. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
    A Gandy Boulevard mobile home park owner is suing the city of Tampa over a record $420,000 fine .
  10. Dashboard camera video shows a Tampa police cruiser pursuing Dusharn Weems through a parking lot. A second later, Weems is fatally injured when the car strikes him. Courtesy Haydee Oropesa
    The family of Dusharn Weems, 23, claims an officer intentionally struck him after he was spotted driving a stolen car.