DOJ: Tampa Bike Stops Unfairly Affect Black Residents

Apr 26, 2016

The U.S. Department of Justice released a long-awaited report Wednesday morning that found Tampa Police unfairly stopped and ticketed black bicyclists as part of its bike stop program.

The federal investigation was launched nearly a year ago. Former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor requested the federal review after a Tampa Bay Times investigation raised the issue of racial profiling in bicycle stops by the Tampa Police Department.

The federal  Office of Community Oriented Policing Services conducted the review. Office Director Ronald Davis said the report found no evidence of police intentionally profiling based on race.

“What it did do, unintentionally, is have a disparate impact on people of color riding bikes in Tampa,” Davis said. “It also strained the relationship between the police and the community.”

The report was based on Tampa Police Department data from January through August of 2015.

The data showed that while black residents only made up about 40 percent of estimated bicycle riders during that time, 73 percent of all bicycle stops were of black cyclists.

The report found the program had no effect on reducing crime or bike theft. This was measured by comparing crime data from when the bike stop program was at its peak with crime data after the Tampa Bay Times investigation and bike stops dropped precipitously.

The data analysis, conducted in partnership with the Virginia Center for Policing and Innovation, also showed the Tampa Police Department’s bike stop program had no measurable effect on public safety.

The report made roughly 20 recommendations on how the department can improve its policing and relationship with the community. Among the recommendations are decreasing the number of bike stops and better explaining policing programs to the community.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Police Chief Eric Ward said they will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Justice on how to best implement the recommendations.

Buckhorn said he believes the city has been transparent throughout the review process and emphasized that the report did not find police were intentionally ticketing mostly black bicyclists.

“There was no discriminatory practices,” Buckhorn said. “This was not a police tactic that was targeted at anybody of a specific race, it was targeted at criminals.”

When asked at Wednesday’s press conference if the city would apologize for implementing a program that disproportionately affected black residents, Buckhorn said he would never apologize for being tough on crime.

The federal review did not look at the productivity metrics for Tampa police officers that some critics said gave too much weight to the number of bicycle tickets an officer gives out. Ward said he is already working on changing those metrics to give more credit to other things officers do.

“One of the things I said from the get go was that we would address these issues and act immediately on any of the recommendations that came out,” Ward said.