Citizens Review Board Seeks Public Opinion On Tampa Police Performance

Mar 13, 2018

Amid tension between residents and the Tampa Police Department, including furor over the disproportionate ticketing of African-American bicyclists in 2015, the Citizens Review Board was created to build trust and foster transparency.

Nearly three years after the 11-member board met for the first time, they're still trying to be keep that channel open.

The Tampa Citizens Review Board wants the public’s thoughts on the performance of the Police Department. Until March 16, residents can share their experiences with law enforcement in an anonymous online survey.

The questionnaire covers a wide range of topics. The purpose, officials say, is to enhance communication between the department and the public.

“The heart of the survey is not just (to ask) how you feel about the police department, but (we want you) to tell us where we should spend our efforts the next year,” said Farhang Heydari, the deputy director of the Policing Project at New York University Law School. “What are the issues that matter to you as a citizen of the Tampa community?”

Heydari's organization helped the review board put together the questionnaire. The Policing Project has done similar surveys in New York City and Los Angeles, attempting to highlight issues and shape the focus for these citizen-led panels, which then recommend policy changes. 

“Generally citizen review boards are great for these types of issues because the police department can get a real idea of what’s concerning to citizens,” said Jacqueline Azis, a criminal justice attorney with the Florida American City Liberties Union.

But these surveys can only be effective when there is an open dialogue between the police department and the review board, she said. 

“It’s not only important for the police department to listen to the results of a survey like this, but to act on it and implement good ideas,” she said.

The Tampa Police Department is present at every review board meeting and is supportive of the efforts of the review board and the Policing Project, said Joseph Swanson, a partner with Carlton Fields law firm in Tampa. 

Swanson, who has been instrumental in getting the survey off the ground, said the police department has supported the project. It has also, in general, he said, been good at reaching out to the community to get its perception of the department.

Getting results that are representative of the Tampa community is an important aspects of the survey, Heydari said. The survey needs to reach and reflect low and high incomes, racial and ethnic diversity.

“The success of a survey, in part, is measured by responses and whether the responses reflect the communities they’re surveying,” Heydari said.

In an effort to do that, organizers have reached out to community partners such as churches, homeless and veteran organizations. Hard copies of the survey have also been distributed.

Although the success of the questionnaire can’t be measured until the results are collected,  the response from the review board and police department are crucial, Heydari said. 

“A key aspect of community engagement is back-and-forth. We’ve taken the first step of asking for the community to give its input, and the next step is the response,” he said.  “A successful survey is one that creates a dialogue, one in which the (review board) uses to set its own agenda so that it can help the police department.”

The results and comments from the survey will be presented at the next Tampa Citizens Review Board meeting at the end of the month. The report will then be made public.