TAMPA — Jane Castor said during a recent mayoral forum that there was no spike in Tampa murders around the time news broke about her officers ticketing black bicyclists in disproportionate numbers. She also said there had never been more than 24 homicides in a single year during her 2009-2015 tenure as Tampa's police chief.
She was wrong on both counts.
On Wednesday, she clarified her remarks by saying she had been referring to homicides involving guns for the annual totals.
And she said she had thought former county commissioner Ed Turanchik was referencing her six years as chief when he mentioned a murder spike, not the period in early 2015 when her bike ticketing policy dominated local news.
The inaccuracies came during an exchange between Castor and Turanchik about an hour into a well-attended mayoral forum Tuesday evening at the Seminole Heights United Methodist Church. Responding to a question about how to curb gun violence, Turanchik turned the question into an attack on Castor's policy of ticketing bicyclists for minor infractions, a practice that disproportionately targeted blacks and led to a review by the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Also this practice of arresting black people on bikes. During that time period the murder rate spiked," Turanchik said.
"No, it didn't," interjected Castor.
"Okay, well," Turanchik said. "We then talked about how there was a need to engage the community, how to deal with the increase in gun violence."
Given an opportunity to rebut by the moderator, Castor doubled down.
"First of all, it's not true. We reduced violence by 70 percent in the city while reducing arrests at the same time. And we went from 79 homicides back in the heyday of the crack cocaine epidemic to no more than 24 while I was chief of police. So to say that they spiked, there has not been a spike in homicides. That is not true," she said.
But a month before the Tampa Bay Times broke the story on the "biking while black" policy, Castor held a news conference noting the murder rate was double the same period of the previous year and imploring the community to be more helpful in solving unsolved cases.
The Tampa Police Department also confirmed that the city's annual homicide total was higher than 24 in every year of her tenure except 2009 and 2012. Most years the homicide total was in the high 20s. In 2015, the city recorded 16 murders before she retired on May 8.
Castor's campaign provided data Wednesday supporting her explanation that murders by firearm never rose above 24 annually during her time as chief.
Turanchik said he was surprised by Castor's denials, saying he was familiar with her March 2015 news conference.
"All I was doing was saying what she had said," Turanchik said Wednesday.
Castor said she didn't recall that news conference and took Turanchik's comments to mean her entire tenure, years in which the murder rate remained relatively steady.
"That's a little narrow there," Castor said, referring to the uptick in murders during the first several months of 2015. "Jeez Louise."
Turanchik said Castor's focus on property crimes, including bike tickets, had damaged trust with the black community, which he said made it more difficult to obtain the community's help solving murders.
He noted that Castor had expressed frustration at the lack of help at her March news conference.
"That's what I was referring to," Turanchik said.
Castor said she thought Turanchik's comments were "inflammatory" and there was no linkage between her ticketing policy and a lack of community assistance in solving homicides.
"That's an assertion that comes from someone who knows very little about law enforcement," Castor said. "(The link) doesn't exist. That's another stretch."
The two candidates will square off again tonight at a South Tampa forum along with the other five candidates in the March 5 election: retired banker and philanthropist David Straz, City Council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen, retired judge Dick Greco Jr. and small businessman Topher Morrison.
Times Staff Writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report. Contact Charlie Frago at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.