TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Black bicyclists in Tampa were more likely than whites to be stopped and ticketed by police, the U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday, adding that the citations didn’t reduce crime in the city.
However, during a news conference at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, officials insisted the policy was not discriminatory.
According to the report, 73 percent of riders stopped between Jan. 1, 2014, and Aug. 30, 2015, were black and 26 percent were white, while the estimated population of riders during the period was 40 percent black and 49 percent white.
“These disparities do not appear to be intentional,” said Ron Davis, the executive director of the Community Oriented Policing Services, a DOJ division that oversaw the Tampa study.
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The federal report found that the department’s “emphasis on bicycling enforcement, by all indications, appears to be an honest effort to improve community safety in the areas most in need.”
The report also said the bicycling stops were “unfair, and even if not intended as harassment, often perceived as such.”
Tuesday’s report was requested a year ago by Mayor Bob Buckhorn and then-Police Chief Jane Castor following a Tampa Bay Times report that black bicyclists were issued citations at a vastly higher rate than the rest of the population. The paper found that Tampa police ticketed more people in a three-year period than Miami, Jacksonville, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined.
The 2010 U.S. Census shows African-Americans make up slightly more than a quarter of the city’s population.
When asked if he felt an apology was owed to the city’s African-American population, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said no.
“I’m never going to apologize for being aggressive with crime fighting,” he said, adding that a “majority” of the people in the African-American community were appreciative of the officers’ “disrupting the gun and drug trade.”
Davis, U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley and Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward all said that there’s much work to do. Among the recommendations: Reduce the number of bike stops, document the reasons for stopping someone and track the ethnicity of those cited. Researchers on the report said the police department’s data wasn’t thorough when it came to tracking the ethnicity of those stopped.
“TPD does not distinguish the ethnicity of suspects or arrestees,” the reports said. “This is generally a major omission but particularly for a city like Tampa, which has a large and long-standing Hispanic population.”
Officials said the department should be lauded for asking the DOJ for help.
Timothy Heberlein, the political director of Organize Now, said activists must now read the report and try to push for change within the city.
“We see this as an opportunity to have a tough conversation with TPD and community members,” he said.
Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush