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Tampa City Council gives TPD more time to gather data about controversial program

Posted at 5:16 PM, Sep 23, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — After more than two hours of discussion, no major decisions were made about Tampa's Crime-Free Multi-Housing Program conducted through Tampa Police Department. Advocates say it makes dangerous communities safer, while critics say it could hurt evicted tenants for years to come.

During public comment at Thursday's Tampa City Council workshop meeting, community members, property managers, and civil rights advocates spoke in favor and in opposition of the initiative.

One woman said there's no one else to call if they need help and a man called the practices "illegal," "unethical," and "immoral."

The heated debate stemmed from an investigative report from the Tampa Bay Times. It showed Tampa police reported arrests of sometimes even misdemeanor crimes to landlords or property managers across 42 housing complexes within the city. Most of them were located in East Tampa. Those reports led to evictions.

The article reported sometimes entire families lost their homes and 90% of those affected are Black.

"Have we made mistakes in the past? Of course, we did," Chief Ruben Delgado said. "To say the program is bad, based on a few mistakes is not something that is healthy for the safety of the citizens of the city."

"We all have to admit the foundation is cracked," Councilman Luis Viera said.

According to Chief Delgado, they made changes after the story came out, like identifying specific, violent charges to landlords and if those arrests were made on the property.

James Shaw Jr. with the Greater Tampa Chapter of the ACLU was one of the several people to speak to council members. He pulled up slides the organization received from a public records request showing how TPD trained property managers.

"Prophylactic measures are being explained to landlords to protect themselves from liability, from what's going to appear as racial discrimination," Shaw said.

Tampa Police Officer Charnele Baker is on the opposite side of this. She patrols 19 of those units and remembers what it was like to stay locked in her home in one of the most crime-ridden spots in Orlando, Mercy Drive.

"I remember having my big wheel and just riding from the kitchen to the living room to the bedroom because outside it was dangerous," Officer Baker said.

Later on, she learned her complex was part of a crime-free housing program. She hopes the two sides can focus on what's most important -- the safety of those residents

"It doesn't matter your economic status, you should be allowed to be at peace at where you pay rent or you pay your mortgage," Officer Baker said.

City Council members wrapped up asking Chief Delgado to come back to them on December 2 with more data. According to their presentation earlier in the day, properties in this program see a 37.1% drop in crime.

However, the ACLU, the NAACP Hillsborough County and several other civil rights groups wrote a letter calling for an end to the program. You can read it in full below.