Tampa City Council asks police for roadmap for future role in eviction program

  • In US
  • 2021-09-23 19:19:00Z
  • By Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla.

TAMPA - Over two hours Thursday morning, more than a dozen people and City Council members described a police program in starkly different ways.

In Tampa's crime-free housing program, police sent notices to landlords detailing tenant arrests that put entire families at risk of eviction, even when charges were later dropped.

Some speakers compared the program, in place since 2013, as akin to a plot to remove Black people from the city and an assault on the innocent.

Others applauded the police and said tenants have to respect the law and that the program has reduced crime where they live.

In the end, council members agreed unanimously to have interim police chief Ruben "Butch" Delgado report back to them on Dec. 2 on how police intend to proceed with notifying landlords and to provide data to back up the police department's assertions that the program has reduced crime.

"This was not good policy," said John DIngfelder, who led the effort to ask for the report.

Dingfelder's effort eclipsed Bill Carlson's, who had made a motion to draft an ordinance banning any city employee from having anything to do with evictions. His motion was discarded in favor of Dingfelder's idea by the other council members.

Delgado defended the program, saying it had made formerly dangerous communities safer. He said "now was not the time" to end the practice, which is used in 2,000 U.S. cities.

The interim chief criticized the Tampa Bay Times investigation - which has already led Mayor Jane Castor to implement reforms - as "one-sided" and taking "logical leaps" by suggesting police were directly involved in evictions.

"The assumption is that the notice of the arrest is causing the eviction. That's not the case," Delgado said.

Leroy Moore, the Tampa Housing Authority's senior vice president and chief operating officer, and several apartment managers who spoke at the meeting said the police notification of the arrest was only part of the process of eviction.

But several council members were skeptical. Dingfelder compared it to asking a child on the playground to punch another child in the face and then denying all responsibility.

Others said, whatever its intentions, the effects of the police involvement led to innocent people being punished.

"I think it's a terrible policy to punish everyone for the mistakes of one person," council member Guido Maniscalco said. "They have become collateral damage."

Carlson expressed particular concern over a presentation document that officers used to help sell the program to landlords. The presentation, the content of which was first reported by Creative Loafing, included slides that likened criminals to weeds that spread.

"The best way to kill a weed is to uproot it. (Eviction serves that purpose.)" one slide stated.

"It was incredibly offensive," Carlson said. "It's the kind of thing that is used by the worst regimes and countries around the world. We cannot have communication like that in and around our city. It's horrible that anyone would have said those things. "

City of Tampa spokesperson Adam Smith later told the Times that the presentation document has not been used since 2018.

Chairman Orlando Gudes, though, had a different take. Gudes, a retired police officer, said only someone familiar with the crime at some apartment complexes understood the need for the program.

"People talk about it's a right to have housing. But when you got it and you live there, then it's a privilege," Gudes said, recalling apartments where other family members knew about and protected criminal activity. "They're not doing what they're supposed to do."

Police made mistakes, Delgado said, comparing them to a police officer writing an incorrect ticket that is later corrected.

"This is no different" 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 this city."

The Times investigation revealed that police sent 140 notices to landlords detailing arrests that took place more than a mile from a tenant's apartment complex. In dozens of cases, charges detailed to landlords that put tenants at risk of eviction were later dropped.

James Shaw, an attorney who has worked with the ALCU on police issues, said the program had sinister designs.

"The purpose of the program was to relocate the Black population outside of the city," Shaw said, noting that over 90 percent of those affected were Black.

And Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP recalled that another program that came under scrutiny - the practice of disproportionately ticketing Black bicyclists, uncovered in a 2015 Times investigation - had been dubbed "biking while black."

"We're 'renting while black' in the city of Tampa," Lewis said.


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