Tampa police to change procedures based on community task force recommendations

After getting feedback from members of a community task force on policing, Tampa PD has a new action plan for easing tensions between officers and those they’re sworn to protect.

On Wednesday, Tampa Police Department Chief Brian Dugan and Mayor Jane Castor announced how the city plans to make those changes to improve the relationship between officers and the community.

After recent police shootings of black men and women sparked protests and marches across the country and in Tampa, city officials turned to the community for input.

“I didn’t want to just placate that anger and frustration by making decisions that only have a temporary effect,” said Mayor Castor.

The mayor’s 50-member community task force consists of educators, clergy, community activists and police officers, and they had in-depth conversations with the University of South Florida’s Dr. Bryanna Fox and her graduate students, who surveyed the task force to come up with key recommendations to assist the city’s efforts.

The results were 17 findings with steps for the department to implement based on the five pillars from the 21st Century Policing Guidelines.

“Those 17 findings were not my ideas. They were really things that have been tested before in other agencies. They are things that have shown to be effective,” said Dr. Bryanna Fox, a USF criminologist. “I was not willing to take a new untested idea and say Tampa is going to be the guinea pig for this. We wanted to make sure it was something that was shown to work through prior research and evaluations, and they had the desired effect on the outcomes that we were interested in.”

Two of the 17 findings are now in effect: A judge’s approval will be required on any no-knock warrants and the department’s use of force policy was updated to say officers will deescalate situations when possible.

“One of the pillars talked about reinstituting a community policing model, so we’ll be updating our performance matrix to capture foot patrols and encourage public interaction,” said Chief Dugan.

TPD also plans to add de-escalation training, a mental health response program that includes licensed mental health professionals, and more officers walking neighborhoods.

“On September 20 this month, we will put 40 officers back in the districts with a focus on community policing and violent crime,” said Dugan.

The changes won’t happen behind closed doors. USF will oversee whether the department implements all the findings and measure the impact. As the changes are completed, Dugan said it will be reflected on the city’s website.

“We’re going to be out there. We’re going to rethink the way we’re doing things because clearly people aren’t happy and we have to change,” said Dugan. “We can’t continue to do the same things and expect different results.”

TPD also plans to work with the NAACP to teach officers about the history of policing in the city and learn from the past.

USF will be involved in an oversight capacity and additional research for the next year with the help of funding from the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.