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  1. Florida Politics

Discussion surrounding Citizens Review Board angers Tampa police union members

TAMPA — When it comes to Mayor Bob Buckhorn's new Citizens Review Board for police, activists are unhappy. The City Council feels ignored and pre-empted.

And, it turns out, members of the union for nearly 1,000 Tampa sworn officers are angry, too.

After years of being praised for bringing down crime in the city, officers are taken aback at the tone of recent discussions at the City Council, said Vinny Gericitano, president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association.

"At the snap of a finger, all of a sudden we're out of control, we can't police ourselves, staff can't discipline us," Gericitano said. "What the hell happened?"

It's not just the Citizens Review Board, which Gericitano said the PBA believes is unnecessary, but also the sense that officers are caught in the middle of a power struggle between Buckhorn and the City Council.

"I think they're doing this on the heads of our cops, and our cops have recognized that," he said.

Plus, union members didn't like it when council Chairman Frank Reddick raised questions about why union officials show up and stand along the wall for reports by Chief Eric Ward.

Reddick said he asked because he was getting questions from people who said they didn't remember the union officials being there when former Chief Jane Castor gave reports. He said he met with Gericitano privately and apologized at the council's Sept. 3 meeting, saying nothing he's said was meant to offend.

Still, some officers have talked about returning "Officer of the Month" awards they have received from the City Council. In response to that talk, Gericitano posted a note to the PBA's members-only Facebook page saying officers could drop their awards by the PBA office if they wished and he could deliver them Thursday, or individual officers could go to the City Council themselves.

As of Monday, Gericitano said he had received no framed proclamations to return and he knew of no officers who planned to give back their awards in person. Reddick said he hopes none do.

"That would send a message to the community that I don't think would be a good message," he said.

Buckhorn signed an executive order Aug. 28 to create an 11-member Citizens Review Board, with nine members appointed by the mayor and two by the council. In response, the council voted for a Sept. 24 discussion of a draft ordinance to give them seven picks to Buckhorn's four.

Buckhorn and City Attorney Julia Mandell say the city charter gives the mayor the authority to establish the panel.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sent Buckhorn a letter and legal opinion challenging that conclusion and saying the mayor's unilateral decision will not result in an independent board capable for effectively investigating police misconduct or violations of civil rights.