TAMPA — A year ago, increased oversight of the Tampa Police Department became a front-burner issue at City Council as activists, the American Civil Liberties Union and other social justice groups demanded a beefed-up Citizens Review Board with independence from the mayor’s office, after street protests rocked the city.
On Thursday, council members voted 4-3 to approve a compromise with Mayor Jane Castor on a new ordinance that overhauls the 11-member volunteer board which would review police abuse cases and make recommendations to Police Chief Brian Dugan.
After more than three hours of debate and public comment (overwhelmingly in favor of the council’s May vote to give themselves the majority of board appointments), council members decided to move forward with an ordinance that several of them said would leave both sides unhappy.
Before the vote, police and fire union officials praised the compromise, which gained a final approval.
So did Castor. In a statement late Thursday, the mayor praised the leadership of Chairman Orlando Gudes, a key vote, and said the “balanced compromise” was the right fit for Tampa.
“The vast majority of Tampa residents support our law enforcement officers and the work that they do to keep our city safe, and they also support transparency and accountability. I am hopeful this vote will bring this debate to a close so that we can move forward together as a community on how we address the challenges Tampa residents face every day,” Castor’s statement read.
From now on, the mayor gets five appointments. Council members make five. And the NAACP board seat will be nominated by the civil rights organization, approved by council members and approved by Castor.
Council members Luis Viera, Charlie Miranda, Joseph Citro and Chairman Orlando Gudes voted yes; council members John Dingfelder, Bill Carlson and Guido Maniscalco voted no.
The reconstituted board will bring unprecedented levels of “balanced, unbiased and progressive” values to the board, said Castor’s chief of staff John Bennett, a former Tampa assistant police chief.
ACLU officials and activists said the compromise didn’t accomplish a primary goal: to remove the board from the mayor’s control.
They argued that the changes would undermine community trust in the board’s actions.
And they said Castor, a former Tampa police chief, was choosing her former colleagues’ interests over theirs.
But their appeal didn’t gain traction with council members.
Citro and Gudes changed their votes from the May vote giving council a 7-4 majority of appointments, a decisive switch that paved the way for Thursday’s action.
Gudes, a retired police officer, said he was well aware of the troubled history of the department, but it was necessary to move forward.
“I know what racism is ... went through it,” Gudes said of his time in the department.
Dingfelder, who led the effort for council control, said residents deserved more. He offered an alternate plan that would have given council a 6-5 split in appointments. But Miranda offered the mayor’s proposal as a substitute and it won the day.
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Miranda said the issue was the talk of every coffee shop he goes to. It will be a defining vote in the 2023 municipal elections, he said.
Tatiana Morales, an activist who said her life was changed last summer during street protests that sometimes turned violent, said the police department doesn’t “hold itself accountable,” so council members must.
“They are begging you to listen,” Morales said of her fellow activists. “Let’s be leaders and act progressively. You need to be leaders of change.”
In the end, council members decided compromise was the best course of action.