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Tampa police have ‘evolved’ on biking while black, chief says

Tampa police are stopping and ticketing fewer black bicyclists, but African Americans still make up the majority of those ticketed and given warnings.

TAMPA — Saying the department has "evolved,'' Police Chief Brian Dugan told city council members Thursday there has been another steep decline in stops and citations for bicycle violations.

“It’s on ongoing process,'' Dugan said at a City Council workshop. "We’re much more aware of how we police.”

But police department statistics show that black bicyclists are still much more likely to be stopped, cited and arrested than their white counterparts.

From October 2018 to September 2019, black residents received 1,506 out of 2,442 warnings. They also accounted for 95 of the 148 arrests for other crimes after being stopped.

A racial breakdown on the total number of stops wasn’t provided in the information presented to council members.

The percentages are lower than what was found in a 2015 Tampa Bay Times investigation that showed police were disproportionately stopping and citing black bicyclists. That report revealed 79 percent of tickets over the previous dozen years were given to African Americans.

Police were ticketing a lot more then: more than 1,000 citations were issued in that period.

Over the last year, 27 of 43 citations were given to black bicyclists, or 63 percent. The previous year, black bicyclists were cited in 79 percent of the tickets. Another way to look at the statistics: The number of whites ticketed rose by 50 percent while the number of African Americans ticketed fell by more than half.

RELATED: Biking while black

One reason for the stubborn disproportion in citations is the areas of the city where most stops were made. Dugan said the bicycle stops more often happened in areas where police were focused on reducing major crime. Those included predominantly black areas like East Tampa, according to a map shown at the workshop.

The police department hasn’t received any recent complaints about its bicycle ticketing practices, Dugan said, including from the local chapter of the NAACP.

Dugan said he worried his officers will perceive an unfair focus on the matter if public attention, including annual reports to council, continue. It’s akin to beating a dead horse, he said.

“I wonder if this is not starting to tire out,” he said.

Some members acknowledged the change in policing.

Orlando Gudes, a former police officer, said a change in focus will filter down to front-line officers.

“I believe it’s all about philosophy; how we police," said Gudes, the lone black council member who represents the city’s only majority-black district.

What appeared to be police stopping black bicyclists on “a pretext” isn’t happening anymore, said John Dingfelder. But public oversight should continue, he said.

“I think we’re past that,” he said referring to perceptions of the old policy. “But I think it’s good for the community to hear in case there’s some perception that it’s out of control, that you have it under control."

The council unanimously approved continuing the annual reports.




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