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ACLU petitions for Tampa’s City Council to adopt changes in police oversight

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Tampa mayor Jane Castor speaks at a May press conference regarding the controversial Citizens Review Board.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida is petitioning Tampa’s City Council to “democratize” the Citizens Review Board, which serves as a watchdog for the city’s police.

Specifically, the ACLU is asking the council to appoint the majority of the review board’s members, instead of Mayor Jane Castor. The petition also asks for the review board to have its own attorney and for it to have the power to issue subpoenas. 

Tampa’s City Council voted in February to appoint seven of the 11-member review board themselves, in order to control a majority of the appointments. During a May press conference, however, Castor said her office would maintain that responsibility,

Castor, standing alongside Police Chief Brian Dugan, also affirmed she would not give the review board power to issue subpoenas, saying “it has come to a point that the (Tampa Police Department) is the only one compromising.”

Both the city council and Castor have expressed frustration at the now months-long negotiations over the Citizens Review Board. On Monday, the council held a special meeting with Tampa Chief of Staff John Bennett to discuss possible solutions for the board’s appointment process, which could be acted on during Thursday’s meeting.

One proposal suggested city council split the appointments 5-5 with Castor, leaving the 11th space open for the council to nominate a member of a relevant civil rights organization, which the Mayor would then need to approve.

While council members said other issues like hiring an independent attorney and granting subpoena power for the review board can wait, they hope to find a compromise over board member appointments during Thursday’s meeting. 

The ACLU is also hoping to use the public meeting to forward its proposals, which reaffirm policies Castor has outspokenly opposed.

“Very few communities feel that they have true oversight of their police departments. We have an opportunity to ensure that our voices are heard regarding police transparency and accountability through critical proposed changes to the Citizen(s) Review Board,” the ACLU said in the petition.

St. Pete Cop Watch, an independent police watchdog group in Pinellas County, voiced support for the petition via social media, asking supporters to show solidarity by signing on, and praising Tampa activists for pushing the reforms.

Here are the full ACLU proposals:

  1. Democratize the CRB appointments to allow more placements to be made by the City Council. Currently, the mayor appoints the majority of the CRB members.
  2. The CRB should appoint and maintain its own independent attorney. Currently, the CRB shares an attorney with the City of Tampa Attorney’s office.
  3. The CRB should be able to get other relevant evidence like camera door footage. Subpoena power would exclude the subpoenaing of police officers. Currently the CRB lacks any sort of subpoena power or ability to gather and review evidence.

 

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