Controversial police-review board debated by Tampa City Council, protest groups

Mayor wants board in place by end of the year

TAMPA -
UPDATE: Council chambers were packed Thursday afternoon as debate raged on over Mayor Bob Buckhorn's order for the creation of a citizens review board for the Tampa Police Department.
 
Buckhorn had plenty of critics.
 
"Let's just be real. The mayor jumped the gun and decided to do his own thing," Said Ali Mohammed.
 
"If we want transparency with the Police Department, if we want transparency for the community, 
that what Buckhorn is trying to establish is not what we're asking for," said Chynnah McFadden.
 
Mike Pheneger, President of the ACLU's Florida Board of Directors, also weighed in.
 
"The Mayor's preemptive strike is disturbing simply because is lacks the authority to investigate. It lacks the authority to hear witnesses. It lacks the authority to subpoena people and documents to investigate," he said.
 
But Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward defended the initiative..
 
"That was one of the agencies that you know Council suggested we look at along with the other agencies throughout Florida. None of those agencies have subpoena power and they're very effective," Ward said. "I adopted St. Petersburg's  model because one, it is local, We have similarities in our crimes and in our citizens, our makeup of the city and I thought that practice, that board, would fit best for our agency."
 
Carson Chambers will have the latest on ABC Action News beginning at 4 p.m.
 
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PREVIOUS: Amidst concern and controversy surrounding an order to create a citizens review board for the Tampa Police Department, the Chief of Tampa's Police Force, Eric Ward, was scheduled to report Thursday to Tampa City Council to discuss the plan.
 
Chief Ward was asked to review how police agencies around the country have worked with review boards, and issue a report on the matter to the Tampa City Council during their meeting on Thursday morning.
 
The meeting started off with a strong turnout by a group called Justice For Tampa, who protested outside the Tampa Police Department headquarters in downtown Tampa on Tuesday and say they want the Mayor to have less power in selecting who is on the citizens review board.
 
Charter rules say the Mayor has the power to select all 11 members of the review board. Mayor Bob Buckhorn has stated publicly that he will give the Tampa City Council the the power to select 2 of the 11 board members.
 
The panel will not have the power to force people to testify, Buckhorn said. 
 
ABC Action News asked Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward what power the citizens review board will have, as it cannot force people to testify and the police department is not obligated to follow the board's recommendations.

"I think that the public should be aware of and feel comfortable with not only our investigations but the findings of the review board," Ward said. "I think that any recommendations that review board makes are something that I will consider."

The review panel will consist of a total of 11 members, who will serve four-year terms. They will review cases involving use of force, community policies and other cases that result in internal investigations, said Buckhorn. 

The Citizens Review Board will include nine voting members and two alternates. Two of the voting members will be appointed by city council and the remaining members will be appointed by Buckhorn.

Buckhorn said he believes this will help improve communication and the relationships people have with police.

"I think it will send a signal to the good folks out there that are just trying to get through life that this department is open, it's transparent. When we make mistakes, we admit them," he said.

Buckhorn said the board members will be volunteers. To apply applicants must be a Tampa resident or own a business in the city. 

Ward is developing an application process for citizens who wish to apply to be a member of the board, according to a statement from the city. Applicants will be subject to a background check and must successfully complete the Tampa Police Citizens Academy. 

The review board's monthly meetings will be televised and open to the public, the statement reads.

Buckhorn said he hopes to have the new review panel in place by December.

"Accountability is what this Citizens Board was designed to do. What the mayor has proposed takes all power from the people,” said Andrew Joseph, Tampa For Justice member.
 
"They would not have subpoena power. It would only be accountable to the mayor and the Police Department […] so it's like the foxes guarding the chicken coup,” said Pastor Bernice Powell Jackson, Tampa for Justice member to ABC Action News on Tuesday.
 
Tampa Police Department also wouldn't have to take the board's recommendations into account, which is one more reason why this group says they're pushing for more transparency.
 
"My concern is accountability. I really want to express accountability. I personally as a black man have experienced racial profiling, and it's not a good feeling,” said Eugene Harrison, Tampa for Justice member.
 
The Tampa City Council will debate the issue on Thursday.
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