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Amid objections, Tampa opens applications for Citizens Review Board for police

Mayor Bob Buckhorn says this isn’t a ‘‘reaction to what happened in Ferguson or Baltimore.”
Mayor Bob Buckhorn says this isn’t a ‘‘reaction to what happened in Ferguson or Baltimore.”
Published Sep. 11, 2015

TAMPA — Amid continuing objections from the City Council and activist groups, Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Thursday opened applications for 11 seats on a new Citizens Review Board for police.

City Hall put the application online at tampagov.net/city-clerk/citizens-review-board. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Oct. 15.

The board, which officials hope will begin work in December, will review closed internal affairs cases involving use of force and police pursuits along with other issues at the Police Department. It can make recommendations but will not — as activists want — have the power to subpoena officers to testify.

As outlined by Buckhorn in an executive order last month, the mayor will pick nine board members and the City Council two. The council has moved to pass an ordinance giving it seven picks to the mayor's four, though Buckhorn said it lacks the legal authority to do so.

Saying the city will move forward with the executive order, Buckhorn pledged to seat a panel that reflects the city's diversity and brings together a range of opinions, backgrounds and neighborhoods.

But he also says he would not appoint a board with an antipolice agenda or that caters to "the 20 loudest voices that show up whenever TV cameras are around."

"If we are going to create a board that is purposeful, that is serious about the work, that is not doing it because they have an ax to grind or because they hate the cops, that is not a reaction to what happened in Ferguson or Baltimore but is a Tampa solution, then I think this is the best way to do it," he said.

This week, the mayor further said he would not include anyone from "the Black Panther Party or any of these other fringe groups that want to do nothing but tear down our community."

Buckhorn's characterization of his critics is "a bit disturbing" and divisive, said the Rev. Charles McKenzie, the Florida director of the Rainbow Push Coalition, because they include long-established civil rights groups such as the NAACP, Florida Council of Churches and the American Civil Liberties Union, which have worked on the issue through a coalition called Tampa for Justice.

"To me, that is inappropriate, and I think it does not engender goodwill," McKenzie said.

On Thursday, about two dozen union supporters demonstrating outside City Hall for a $15 wage for fast-food workers included an appeal to Buckhorn, who in April attended one of their raise-the-minimum wage rallies.

"When he did that, he did a great thing and represented all the people of Tampa, and not just a few," said Conciliar Catholic Church Bishop Chuck Leigh, president of the Florida Council of Churches. "We hope, we pray, we beg him to soften his heart and to support a fair, representative police civilian review board."

To serve on the Citizens Review Board, volunteers must be 18 or older and live or own a business in the city. They must pass a background check, attend the Police Department's citizens academy and do at least three three-hour ride-alongs with officers "so they can walk a mile in the police officers' shoes," Buckhorn said.

Not eligible to serve are city employees, relatives of Tampa police employees, current law enforcement officers, political candidates, elected officials, felons or anyone convicted of a crime of "moral turpitude."

Though Buckhorn maintains the council cannot change his executive order or codify it into law, council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said one reason she wants to consider an ordinance is that an executive order can be changed or rescinded at any time without public participation. But an ordinance, she said, can only be changed in a public process.

Capin also disagreed with the mayor's description of the activists who have packed two recent City Council meetings as fringe groups.

"It's not a thing between the mayor and City Council," she said. "It's a thing between the mayor and the people. The people reached out to City Council. … That's not a fringe group. That's the public. That's who we serve."

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