TAMPA, Fla. - The Tampa City Council approved $952,000 to purchase more than 600 body cameras for the Tampa Police Department on Thursday, an acquisition that Police Chief Brian Dugan says many members of his force may not like. But he says they can quit if that’s the case.
What You Need To Know
- Protests continue in Tampa Bay
- Council approved funding for police body cams
- Chief Brian Dugans says officers must realize things have changed
- Councilman apologizes for recent "thugs" comment
“The landscaping of policing has changed dramatically in the last five days,” Dugan told the Council, referring to the protests throughout Tampa (and the globe) in reaction to the death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man from Minneapolis who was killed by a police officer on Memorial Day. “And if there’s a police officer in the city of Tampa that does not want a body-worn camera, then I suggest that you turn your badge in. Because we cannot have that anymore. It has changed. “
Speaking with reporters afterwards, Dugan said he thinks the cameras would make a difference in terms of transparency, but acknowledged that they were not popular with his officers.
“The cops are not going to be happy. I’m not naïve. I get it. But I think the good cops realize that times have changed," he said. "They don’t trust us, and we’ve got to fix that. And body cameras are not the answer to everything.”
The performance of the Tampa Police Department came under question during the council meeting, the first time they’ve met in public since mid-March, when concerns about the coronavirus shifted their meetings to virtual-only affairs.
Former state legislator Ed Narain criticized the actions by the police force against protesters on Tuesday night. He said the council should encourage State Attorney Andrew Warren and Mayor Jane Castor to drop the unlawful gathering charges against the more than 60 people who were arrested that evening.
“Sometimes defending your city is ugly,” Dugan told council members, adding that the event was “not my proudest moment.”
Dugan said that he had called Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, Public Defender Julianne Holt and State Attorney Warren on Wednesday morning to work on getting those arrested out of jail. And he said that whenever the current social unrest slows down, he will work with Holt and Warren’s office to review those cases.
Council members Orlando Gudes (a former Tampa Police officer for more than two decades) John Dingfelder and Luis Viera said that Tuesday’s incident called into question the department’s use of force and crowd dispersal policies.
Dugan said that since the protests began on Saturday, the department has arrested 138 people so far, but expects to arrest more in the coming days as his agency continues to review the video of the “chaos” that happened over the weekend.
The meeting began with all seven council members taking a collective 45 minutes to address the civic unrest in Tampa and the country following the death of Floyd.
Councilman Gudes began by saying that a Tampa police officer had engaged in an incident with a citizen at Tampa General Hospital, and asked that he be placed on administrative lead. Dugan said the process was that the case is now being investigated, and he will provide a full report to the council on June 25.
Both Gudes and state Rep. Dianne Hart (who was in the audience and spoke during public comment) both criticized Mayor Jane Castor’s administration for a lack of communications, specifically alluding to learning from the public – and not the mayor’s office - that members of the National Guard being in Tampa earlier this week.
Dingfelder was blasted by several speakers for referring to looters as “thugs.”
After initially defending his comments by saying that he saw black, white and Hispanic people stealing while watching local news last Saturday night, Dingfelder ultimately backed down after pastor and school board candidate Elvis Pigott said that the term has always been considered a not so polite synonym for an African-American.
Dingfelder apologized, saying he wasn’t aware of the racial implications. A few moments later, Councilman Joe Citro apologized for using the term “red” and “yellow” referring to American Indians and Asians.
Councilman Bill Carlson referred to a number of incidents over the past decade that he said showed an indifference to the black community.
He began by referring to Arthur Green Jr., a community leader who had diabetes and was in the middle of a medical episode when confronted by TPD officers at a traffic stop in 2014 (Green’s estate is still pursuing a lawsuit against the city).
He referred to the Tampa Bay Times 2015 ‘Biking while Black’ story, which said black cyclists were disproportionately cited for violations. That ultimately led to a U.S. Justice Dept. investigation that said that the policy was not discriminatory, but also wasn’t effective in stopping crime.
And he mentioned the more recent case of Fair Oaks Center in East Tampa, a community center that has never been renovated.
“It doesn’t have the amenities that other community centers have in other parts of the city, and worse, it has rats infested in it and kids and others have to worry about rat droppings," Carlson said. "This city council had to make a motion to ask the rats to be removed. When we went a few months later, the community said…the rats are still here.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Council voted to have a discussion about the police department on August 27. The City Attorney would be asked to present a set of recommended policy changes back to the Council a month later.