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Despite civil rights groups' request, Tampa police will keep writing bike tickets

Published Apr. 25, 2015

TAMPA — The Tampa Police Department will not stop writing bicycle tickets, despite a request from a dozen civil rights organizations and faith leaders concerned about racial disparities reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

On Thursday, local chapters of organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and the NAACP sent a letter to Mayor Bob Buckhorn asking that Tampa police freeze enforcement of bike offenses pending a review by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

"The Police Department will not stop issuing citations; however, we already started a written warning system," Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Friday. She added that officers have issued 10,000 warnings for all kinds of traffic infractions so far this year.

"That will be our focus moving forward," McElroy said. "While this is an emotionally charged conversation for our community, no one should prejudge what the review will conclude."

The ACLU of Florida issued a statement Friday saying it "regrets" the decision. "If the city doesn't cease the citations immediately, the city is placing a seal of approval on policing tactics that definitively result in dramatic racial disparities and erode communities' trust in law enforcement."

Buckhorn and Tampa police Chief Jane Castor called for a federal review after a Times investigation found that eight in 10 of the department's bike tickets go to black residents.

"The data suggests what many had already believed and feared to be true about policing in the city of Tampa: that pretextual and discriminatory police stops are a common practice of the city's police and that communities of color within the city are disproportionately targeted," the letter said.

Those who signed include CAIR Florida, Dream Defenders, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, LULAC of Florida, Mi Familia Vota, NAACP Hillsborough Branch, Pastors on Patrol, Rainbow-PUSH Florida and Tampa Bay Academy of Hope Inc.

Castor has agreed that the statistics are "troublesome" and should be reviewed, but she and the mayor deny any racial intent behind the disparity.

"The inference, whether it's real or perceived, that the Tampa Police Department is profiling African-Americans is wrong, absolutely dead wrong," Buckhorn said. "I think we were doing our jobs. The people in the community appreciate we're doing our jobs."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@tampabay.com.

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