Later this month, the Tampa City Council will hold a hearing to vote on proposed amendments to the Citizens Review Board for the Tampa Police Department, under the guise of creating more transparency and enhancing the public’s trust of Tampa police officers. Some of the proposed changes to the board include empowering the board to conduct investigations into both closed and open cases with subpoena power, the ability to have an independent attorney and to allow the majority of board appointments be made by the City Council (as opposed to Mayor Jane Castor), and for the first time, to include a voting Citizens Review Board member, appointed by the City Council, who is an officer of the NAACP.
Like many sweeping local and national legislative initiatives spreading throughout the country, these proposals will actually do very little to improve the public’s trust and increase accountability and, instead, they will create a highly charged political bureaucracy aimed solely at second-guessing and undermining the credibility of the men and women in blue, who put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities.
We fully understand that controversial shooting incidents in different parts of the country have created a national conversation about police and community relations. The Tampa Police Benevolent Association is not opposed to productive conversations about police reform, yet we can never support a politically driven attempt to empower the Tampa Citizens Review Board to have unlimited subpoena powers, relitigate allegations made against our officers and publicize their disciplinary records in order to satisfy the misguided agenda of some police reform activists, whose sole purpose is to dismantle and demoralize members of law enforcement.
Proponents of the proposed amendments to the Citizens Review Board have created a disingenuous narrative that the current board is toothless, while also implying that no other governmental bodies charged with police oversight currently exists. Unlike many industries, there is perhaps no other profession that currently faces more external scrutiny and oversight than police officers, whose every action is scrutinized by the Attorney General, State Attorneys, the Criminal Justice Standards Training Commission, local City Councils, Grand Juries and, yes, Citizens Review Boards.
Before rushing to impose these radical changes, the public must hold our elected leaders accountable and force them to consider the slippery slope these changes will have on the vast majority our police force that performs exceptional and essential services under very difficult circumstances, including some that are life and death situations. The attacks on our profession have already led many officers to retire early, rather than jeopardize their careers and their family’s livelihood to appease a political movement that always views us as the enemy no matter what.
Tampa cannot have it both ways. The city cannot expect to attract highly qualified and dedicated men and women to risk their lives serving on the front lines of public safety, only to return from work and be investigated by politically driven attorneys who care more about advancing their own careers while destroying ours. Tampa’s Finest deserves better and so do the citizens of Tampa.
Darla Portman is president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, which represents more than 1,000 police officers in the City of Tampa.