DOJ report: TPD's bike tickets unfair, not racist

- Unfair, ineffective, but not racist: Those were some of the ways the Department of Justice characterized the Tampa Police Department's bicycle ticketing program in a report released Tuesday.

At a news conference held at the U.S. Attorney's office in Tampa, federal officials discussed the data it analyzed after TPD asked the DOJ to look at the bike-stop program, amid accusations of racial profiling.

"Most chiefs understand that the truth can hurt, but selective ignorance is fatal," said Ronald Davis, director of the DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. "This challenge -- fighting crime, enhancing public safety, serving the community, making sure police embrace diversity and not leave any segment disenfranchised -- is not unique to Tampa."

Federal officials began looking at the program last April, analyzing bicycle stops and ticketing from January 2014 through August 2015.

The DOJ determined that, although most bike riders in the city are white, 73-percent of riders who were stopped were black.

According to the report, the TPD program also did not have the intended outcome; crime barely went down and the stops did not result in a significant increase in recovered stolen bicycles.

Although the DOJ said TPD officers were not racially profiling, the study noted that the ticketing program alienated a portion of the community.

"While there were disparities -- and we recognize that and we acknowledge that, and we've acknowledged it from day one -- there was no discriminatory practices," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "This was not a police tactic that was targeted at anybody of a specific race. It was targeted at criminals."

The mayor, however, was unapologetic about the intent of the program.

"I'm never going to apologize for being aggressive in the crime fight. It's just not going to happen," he said. "I don't think it warrants an apology, but I do think it warrants corrective action based on the report that we just got."

That corrective action, based on recommendations in the report, includes better tracking of who is pulled over and why, better community outreach and engagement, along with reducing the number of bike stops.

"In very short order, we will look at these recommendations, assemble a team of professionals to help us work through this process," said Chief Eric Ward. "These recommendations are only going to make us better. As we work to build our relationship with the community, this is something that I'm looking forward to."

Some activists don't think the city or TPD is doing enough.

"Why are black people under such scrutiny?" said Michelle Williams with Black Lives Matter, who protested outside the U.S. Attorney's office. "This is an issue that we're not going to forget: Biking while black. It's the third stop. First it was driving while black, then it was walking while black. I mean, I don't understand."

Others are hoping for a more cooperative approach.

"We're going to be looking at the report and finding ways that we can work to build relationships with TPD and to have greater police relationships with our communities," said Tim Heberlein with Organize Now.

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