Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Column: Tampa police chief defends bicycle ticketing strategy

A Tampa Bay Times investigation has found that in the past three years, Tampa police have written 2,504 bike tickets - more than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined. Police say they are gung ho about bike safety and focused on stopping a plague of bike thefts.But here's something they don't mention about the people they ticket: Eight out of 10 are black. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
A Tampa Bay Times investigation has found that in the past three years, Tampa police have written 2,504 bike tickets - more than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined. Police say they are gung ho about bike safety and focused on stopping a plague of bike thefts.But here's something they don't mention about the people they ticket: Eight out of 10 are black. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Apr. 22, 2015

The mission of the Tampa Police Department is to ''reduce crime and improve the quality of life through a cooperative partnership with all citizens,'' and that is what we have diligently worked toward over the last 12 years. While our efforts are far from perfect, we have realized much success and ultimately made Tampa a safer city.

Today, there are 24,630 fewer victims of serious crimes than in 2002. There are a number of factors that have played a part in transforming our community into a safe place to live, work and play: a focus on accurate and real-time crime analysis to inform officers of when, where, how and by whom crime is being committed; the placement of our resources to focus on high-crime areas and offenders; proactive crime prevention; an uncompromising urgency in solving crime; and a shared responsibility for all crime reduction.

The most important element in our successful crime reduction success has been our relationship with the community. Twelve years ago, we asked the residents in each neighborhood to work side by side with their officers to make it the best it could be. The response has been overwhelming and beyond what we imagined possible.

As a result, I have concerns about the Tampa Bay Times article published Sunday, "Odds are you're black." It compared Tampa's bike enforcement to St. Petersburg, Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami. It's critical to note Tampa's crime rate is half of the rate in those cities for the same time period. Also, the comparison of Tampa to Ferguson, Mo., and New York is inciting at best. And to try to imply that I or the members of the Tampa Police Department are racists is insulting to our entire community.

The article highlights Alphonso Lee King as an example of someone the police department targeted with its bike enforcement. However, it did not mention the five times King was riding his bike while committing criminal offenses. It also did not mention his criminal history, which is 142 pages long with 41 convictions. A few of his convictions are domestic violence by strangulation, child abuse, two robberies, felony battery, check fraud, cocaine and methadone possession. During his years of criminal activity, officers issued King only one bike citation and two bike warnings. The article questions our focus on bike safety, but ironically King caused an accident while giving a friend a ride on the handlebars of his bike. He crashed into a vehicle, injuring his friend who flew off the handlebars. As part of the department's ongoing efforts to reduce bike accidents, we handed out 1,600 bike lights over the last two years. That fact was also missing from the article.

The department's bike enforcement is heaviest in the areas of the city where the most crimes take place on bikes and where the most stolen bikes are recovered. With that said, a look at all 2014 citations shows officers issued 29 percent of them to African-Americans. The department targets crime problems, not people.

The more affluent segments of our community enjoy a certain quality of life. It is my belief that every neighborhood deserves to be safe and enjoy the same quality of life. This is what motivates the men and women of the Tampa Police Department each and every day. Ask the citizens living in Sulphur Springs, Robles Park and east Tampa, collectively, if their quality of life has improved over the last decade and if they appreciate the efforts of the Tampa Police Department.

As I prepare to retire after 31 years of serving this community, I will look back on the positive partnership we have developed with our citizens as my greatest success. All other accomplishments are born from this relationship of trust and honest communication. This is not to imply that all is perfect, but the foundation of our positive community partnership is based upon the courage, willingness and comfort citizens have to question the actions of law enforcement. Officers are not the cause of or the salvation from societal ills. We exist to serve the community by upholding the standards they demand.

Jane Castor is Tampa's chief of police.