In response to Tampa Bay Times' interview requests about bicycle tickets, Police Chief Jane Castor provided the following statement on April 10:
Officers write the most bike warnings and citations in the areas of the city where they recover the largest number of stolen bikes. This is not a coincidence. Many individuals receiving bike citations are involved in criminal activity. At one time, suspects stole cars to commit crimes. Officers have reduced auto theft over 90% so bikes have become the most common mode of transportation for criminals. We have a duty to address that reality for the safety of our citizens. Those citizens have a right to a safe neighborhood.
Seventy-six percent of our DUI arrests last year were a "disproportionate" number of white males. That does not mean we are targeting white males, it simply means that we are addressing a crime pattern, not a demographic. If those drivers weren't driving impaired, they would not be stopped. The same applies to bicyclists. If they are riding within the guidelines of the law, they will not be cited.
Every neighborhood has a unique set of issues. What is a problem in one area of the city may not be in another. We have an obligation to address the individual issues that plague each neighborhood.
Florida is one of the leaders in bicycle and pedestrian fatalities and Tampa is not immune to that. Our goal is to make the roads safer for everyone. That's why we take a strong education and enforcement stance. We have handed out over 1,600 free bike lights, with heavy concentration in the neighborhoods where the most citations are issued. Bicyclists are typically given warnings before citations, many multiple warnings.
"Officers have reduced auto theft over 90 percent so bikes have become the most common mode of transportation for criminals."
— Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor
In response to additional questions posed by Times reporters, Chief Castor provided this statement on April 16:
This responds to your request for our response to several questions you posed. I would first like to address your comments and make a request. I assume you are interviewing an individual or several who have received citations. I would like the opportunity to research our agency's interaction with those people prior to you publishing the story. We have reviewed many of the individuals who received multiple citations and I believe it's important to note that most received multiple warnings prior to receiving a citation. A good example is Raymond Contreras who received 4 citations. He was given 4 warnings before he received a citation.
You cannot lose sight of the fact that Tampa leads the state in bicycle and pedestrian fatalities. Those lives matter and it is our responsibility to make the roads safe.
• We believe that the data you cite represents an incomplete analysis to draw firm conclusions of disparate treatment. You compare the incidence of bike citations to the overall population. It would be more appropriate to examine population in the area where tickets are issued. Such an examination would narrow the disparity significantly. Officers write the most bike warnings and citations in the areas of the city where they recover the largest number of stolen bikes. We have an obligation to address this problem irrespective of the demographic. We are addressing a crime pattern not a demographic.
• We have no problem with your data demonstrating that we are more active in citing bicycle infractions than other jurisdictions but we believe you are portraying an incomplete picture by ignoring Tampa's lower crime rates. Tampa has lowered crime just in the past three years by -13.47%; whereas Orlando was -4.7%; Miami -6.8%; St Pete is +1.46% and Jacksonville -7.3% over the same span.
• We don't know the specific number or credibility of the "experts" you purport to have contacted but we simply have a different view of the degree and causes of any disparity. It is not uncommon for people looking at the same data to have different conclusions about the meaning.
As for your questions, we respond as follows.
• We continue to believe that our enforcement practices have reduced crime in Tampa. What your analysis fails to capture is the number of serious crimes that are associated with bikes that would not show up in a query of citations. Officers don't usually issue a bike citation when they are arresting a suspect on a serious offense such as armed robbery or aggravated battery. Criminals are not specialists - we have no doubt that serious criminals are also abusing drugs and committing misdemeanors, so your observation that those offenses constituted the "vast majority" of arrests does not alter our perception that we have prevented more serious criminal activity. The Pareto Principal clearly establishes the 20/80 rule in criminology. It states that 20% of offenders commit 80% of the crime. It is our goal to hold that 20% responsible for their actions and make our city safer. We urge you to review the snapshot of the serious crimes connected to suspects on bikes that we shared with you. The victims of those crimes deserve a police department that is working to solve their cases and prevent future offenses.
• You ask for data on the location of recovered stolen bicycles. As you pointed out, we do not maintain data on such matters. Our operational tactics, especially those made daily at the district level, are sometimes made on the basis of observations of police officers. The absence of data does not invalidate those operational decisions. Every TPD officer is expected to be a community oriented police officer which means they know who lives and works in their zone and what the problems are in that area. This information is used to address issues on a daily basis.
• Regarding the distribution of free lights, they are handed out at community events, at TPD's after school programs or to individuals riding without a light. FDOT does not require documentation of the light distribution. As a result, we did not establish a method to record the handing out of lights until this year.
I hope that this concludes your inquiry regarding our enforcement of bicycle violations. We will be eager to read your coverage and trust that it will be as accurate a portrayal as is possible with incomplete data, irrespective of source.