TAMPA, Fla. - Tampa's newly-sworn police chief has promised transparency. One way she plans to make good on that promise is by zeroing in on traffic stop data, and having it analyzed and shared to try to curb racial profiling concerns and build trust.
Chief Mary O'Connor said Tampa Police Department will team up with an outside expert to collect, track and analyze data on traffic stops. And that information will be posted publicly.
Brenda Brackins recalls the night her son was stopped on a traffic violation in a different jurisdiction.
"They illegally detained my son on the side of the road for approximately 58 minutes while they meticulously searched his car, including under his hood, and ran every single serial number that they could find," Brackins said.
Released without citation or warning, she and her sons were left wondering why?
"After the traffic stop, he cried uncontrollably because he didn't feel like he'd done anything wrong," Brackins said. "As a result of this encounter, both of my sons suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress as it relates to police."
Racial profiling was front and center of this week's Nehemiah Action Event hosted by the Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality or HOPE.
"One of our members, he's been stopped, he says, five to six times a year," said HOPE's Criminal Justice Co-Chair Laurie Jones Oluku.
Chief O'Connor was among the local leaders serving on a panel that was called to task.
"Will you work with an outside expert to track, analyze and communicate data on all traffic stats?" Oluku asked.
"Yes," said O'Connor.
Her answer was met with applause.
"If you guys have the knowledge, you now have the power to make change in your police department if the data suggests that there is something disparate there," O'Connor said.
O'Connor envisions transparency in a real-time traffic stop dashboard. While TPD does collect data when citations or warnings are issued, it's not published publicly, nor is demographic data.
"We want the race called out, we want the reason why the stop was happening," Oluku said.
TPD did start posting bike stop data after the U.S. Department of Justice found they stopped and ticketed a disproportionate number of black bicyclists.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a statement, "I recognize the importance of tracking data to ensure that racial bias is never a factor during interactions with the public. Our data systems already maintain a database with demographic information related to traffic stops where a Uniform Traffic Citation or Written Warning is issued. We constantly review this information, which is also available to the public upon request."
"I have established a diverse workforce, which continually receives training, and body worn cameras also capture interactions with the public, to include traffic stops, which supervisors and staff regularly review," Chronister said. "I do not see a need for taxpayers to incur an additional expense for an external entity to replicate a function that is already in practice."
HOPE members want it all out in the open.
"We truly are looking to capture every single stop," Oluku said. "Not just the stops where you issue a warning or give someone a piece of paper. All the stops."
According to TPD, this new initiative is in the infancy stage. They're still working out the details of how it will operate.
Moving forward, HOPE members hope this type of data publishing will become a partnership between all law enforcement agencies across the county.