Time, money, trust: Plans to reform policing in Tampa begin to take shape

About a month ago, the city of Tampa received a detailed report on what needs to change to improve police relations with the communities they serve. The city council heard firsthand what it will take to implement them on Tuesday.

There were 17 findings that came out of Tampa’s community task force on policing last month and the University of South Florida is helping Tampa police make those changes.

On Thursday, she briefed Tampa City Council on where the city’s community policing reform project stands.

“There's a few takeaways in terms of where we can go,” said USF criminology professor Dr. Bryanna Fox, who is overseeing the process. “We've been working to get funding put together to support this effort. We also need to get some of these trainings lined up for the police department. We've already started on all of that.”

A big part of the reform process includes building trust between different communities and officers, and measuring how it develops will take time.

“We can do that in a community and see where were they at the start, where are they at the end. Or we can compare this community to another,” Fox said.

But beyond what the community wants to see on the outside, some councilmembers said there should also be an institutional mind-shift within the department itself.

“You have to look at the system and look at how the system works internally. You have your outside issues, but it all starts inside the house,” said Councilman Orlando Gudes, of District 5. “I think once you fix some of the internal issues inside the house, you’ll get a better product outside the house.”

And that takes more than a training session.

“The cultural element could be more difficult to impact rather than training, implementing it, and then walking away,” said Fox. “So that's why we need to be able to be in TPD, to be able to constantly assess, to be able to do ride-alongs, to see what's going on.”

With all the work on the table, the city council acknowledged it will take a financial commitment.

“Just like you can’t build bricks without straw, you can’t implement positive change and progress in law enforcement without more money,” said Councilman Luis Viera of District 7.

The process will be funded in part by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Fox said these reform measures and oversight are large undertakings and more money will be needed. Changes are supposed to take place within the next 18 months.