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Tampa Mayor, Police Chief address task force findings

TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa’s mayor and police chief are outlining the next steps they’re taking following USF’s findings from the Mayor’s Community Task Force on Policing.

The group was made up of 50 community members, including activists, clergy, community leaders and officers. USF Associate Professor of Criminology, Dr. Bryanna Fox, and a team of graduate students led the meetings. It included dialogue and surveys, to help come up with 17 key findings.

“This isn’t a situation where I think it’s begrudging. I think it’s actually seen as an opportunity to improve and seeing it as a chance to move forward with the community and with the police department,” said Fox.

On Wednesday, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan and Mayor Jane Castor showed their support for the findings.

“We wanted to ensure we had that objectivity and that assurance this wasn’t an exercise. That we didn’t say, ‘We’re gonna check a box and move on that we listened.’ We heard and we’re going to implement these findings that will not only improve the Tampa Police Department but improve that relationship between the residents,” said Castor.

Castor said some policies will be quick to implement, while others may take longer.

Dugan said already they’ve made changes to policy language. He said while no-knock search warrants are not a practice within the department, language now requires approval from a judge and the police chief for them. For use of force, Dugan said language is added that every officer is required to de-escalate a situation when possible.

“What the goal is is to have our practices reflect our policies,” he said.

Dugan said they’re also planning to do integrative communications assessment and tactics training to help diffuse critical incidents and teach officers to focus on de-escalating situations. They also plan to update their performance matrix, Dugan said to capture foot patrols and encourage public interaction.

“On September 20 this month, we will put 40 officers back in the districts with a focus on community policing and violent crime. We’re reorganizing some of our people. They’ll still be on the same task but they’ll report in the neighborhoods themselves,” he said.

The chief said they’ll address mental health response, with a goal of working with mental health experts to develop a program to continually assist people.

He said they’re also working with the NAACP to develop a curriculum to teach officers about the history of policing in Tampa.

“I always say to know me, is to teach me and if you teach me, I will learn. So learning the history and learning the root and the cause of the issues and the behavior that plague or African Americans exhibit is very important,” said Yvette Lewis, the president of the NAACP Hillsborough County Branch.

However, Lewis said she wants to see more done.

“It needs to be more tangible things that we can see here and now. It needs to be more action. And we need to see that this city is serious about the African-American community and the policing that is going on in this city. We need to be serious about this and I don’t really feel that the mayor is really taking this serious,” Lewis said.

Lewis said she wants to see reassurance of safety from brutality and more on officer accountability.

“It’s hard to tell people to hold onto faith when we keep getting pushed back down. It’s hard to tell people to hold onto hope when they feeling hopelessness. This city has got to do better when it comes to addressing the issues of African-American community instead of just putting a blanket over it and turning a blind eye to it,” she said.

Moving forward, Fox and the USF grad team will continue helping with oversight and research, with funding help from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“It will be things such as me coming into the Tampa Police Department, meeting with people, asking what’s been happening since our last meeting, going on ridealongs, seeing if officers are doing the things we’re talking about in the training in the spirit of our recommendations and findings. But other things, in terms of measuring the actual impact, and that’s oversight as well,” Fox said.

You can see the full report and findings here.

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