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Tampa police chief explains decrease in bicycle tickets

TAMPA — Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward attributes his department's decrease in bicycle ticketing to a message he communicated to officers after he was installed in May:

"Education first... Focus on neighborhood relationship building."

It's his philosophy, he explained Thursday as he presented the numbers to Tampa City Council.

Bike stops for this month are down 57 percent from last year, 1,054 to 450.

Bike tickets resulting from those stops are down 80 percent, 66 to 13.

The statistics echoed a Tampa Bay Times analysis published last week which showed three times as many tickets written between May and July last year.

"It's a good thing we are not stopping and citing people as often as we were," said Council member Lisa Montelione.

She and other council members asked that Ward return next quarter with information connecting bike stops to arrests for more serious crimes.

The decrease in bike stops, as well as the newly-implemented monitoring system, come after a Times investigation showing the stark racial disparity in the tickets.

Tampa police were writing more bike tickets than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined. Eight out of 10 of the bicyclists cited were black.

The investigation prompted the mayor and former chief to call for a federal review of the practice and has united civil rights groups in calling for the creation of a civilian board to review police actions.

The City Council will discuss the civilian board at next Thursday's meeting.

Chairman Frank Reddick, who has called on police to freeze bicycle ticketing amid the federal review, appeared pleased about the decrease.

"I think I feel a little more at ease riding a bike now," Reddick said.

Contact Alexandra Zayas at Follow @AlexandraZayas