TAMPA — All summer the message from activists against police misconduct was clear: Tampa needs to improve its oversight of police officers.
A large, passionate crowd of activists in June, and again in September, outlined a series of changes to the 11-member Citizen Review Board, including giving it subpoena power, an independent investigator and attorneys, and City Council control over its appointments. Mayor Jane Castor’s administration promised to review and discuss with the police union and the ACLU before reporting back to council members this month.Related: Castor, City Council haggle over changes to Citizen Review Board
The results are in. Castor’s proposed ordinance doesn’t grant any of those changes. Instead, the mayor would control five appointments, the same as City Council, and the 11th member would be nominated by the NAACP and confirmed by council members, giving the council a thin majority.
The gap between the two sides sets the stage for Thursday’s council meeting on an issue that has been one of the first-term mayor’s biggest political battles since she took office in May 2019.Related: Castor announces tweaks to police review board
Bill Carlson, a council member who pushed for revamping the board, said the proposed ordinance can always be further amended, but the proposal is a good start.
“The bottom line on this is it’s light years ahead on what was implemented years ago. It was much better than it was in 2015,” Carlson said Tuesday.
The panel was formed in 2015 after a Times investigation into the police department’s practice of ticketing bicyclists, which resulted in Black bicyclists being ticketed disproportionately. During her campaign, Castor said the policy had been a mistake.
Kelly Benjamin, a community organizer with Tampa For Justice, an advocacy group that has pushed for greater powers for the review board, said he was disappointed in Castor’s offer.
“We know this playbook already. Everybody knows this board has been a sham since Day 1. Here we are again,” Benjamin said.
One change that Castor did approve in negotiations with the city’s police union was to allow former officers serve on the board.
“That’s just ridiculous," Benjamin said. “It flies in the face of the intention for this board to provide a voice for the community.”
Yet police union president Darla Portman said it’s important to have law enforcement experience on the board to give perspective, she said.
She also applauded Castor for not budging on allowing the board to investigate open cases. That would be a violation of the union’s contract, Portman said.
“It’s a compromise. We all worked really hard on this,” Portman said.
Castor’s office said it was optimistic a compromise could be reached.
“We have been working with the ACLU and the PBA (Police Benevolent Association) to iron out differences in their positions to try and find middle ground,” said Ashley Bauman, Castor’s spokeswoman.
Yvette Lewis, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said she hopes the mayor meets residents “halfway.” Trust in the police in the community isn’t where it should be, she said.