The Ybor City campus of Hillsborough Community College will have special guests this evening. Tonight, the Federal Department of Justice’s C.O.P.S. Office, or Community Oriented Policing Services, will be holding a community listening session to listen to people concerned about the Tampa Police Department’s bike policing strategies.
The strategies are believed to target black residents. The meeting comes after a Tampa Bay Times story uncovered disproportionate stopping and ticketing of blacks in low-income areas in April.
Steve Hegarty, the Public Safety Information spokesman for the Tampa Police Department, said Mayor Bob Buckhorn and former Police Chief Jane Castor made the call to the Department of Justice, and explained that tonight’s meeting is the first stop of their week-long stay in Tampa.
“They're going to hear from the public, and somewhere down the road, I don't know how long it's going to take, they're going to issue a report,” he said. “We're going to look over the report and I think we've already committed to taking very seriously whatever recommendations they make.”
The C.O.P.S. Office has investigated police departments in San Diego, California; Detroit, Michigan and Ferguson, Missouri. Now Tampa will be added to the list.
In the past three years, Tampa police have issued over 2,500 biking tickets, with published reports showing eighty percent of those receiving tickets were black. Infractions included riding without bike lights, not stopping for stop signs, and biking without having hands on the handle bars.
Dr. Matthew Scheider is with the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. He says they are addressing these statistics by collecting data and interviewing police, but tonight they want to hear from the public.
"Primarily it's an opportunity for the community to talk to us about their police department, specifically around bicycle stops and traffic stops, and to relay their experiences with those, to us," he said.
Tonight’s meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m.