Naked Politics

Community board recommends removing Tampa mayor as Miami’s police department monitor

Newly elected Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has been an independent monitor of Miami Police Department practices.
Newly elected Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has been an independent monitor of Miami Police Department practices. Tampa Bay Times

A community board responsible for overseeing Miami’s compliance with a federal policing agreement wants to part ways with the department’s independent monitor.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who was sworn into office in May, has served since 2016 as the $150-an-hour reviewer of Miami police’s practices and policies under an agreement with the Department of Justice. The agreement was the result of a DOJ investigation, spurred by a string of police shootings that killed seven black men in an eight-month stretch spanning 2010 and 2011. In 2013, the DOJ determined that Miami cops had engaged in a pattern of excessive use of force.

In April, Castor — former Tampa police chief — told the Herald she thought the department “had satisfied all of the requirements of the agreement,” so she would seek to end the oversight. The Community Advisory Board, created as part of the agreement, swiftly disagreed. So did the Justice Department, which told a city official assigned to the board that the oversight will continue.

On Monday night, advisory board members said Castor still owes them three reports. Chairman Justin Pinn said he recognizes improvements have been made in the police department, but he said Castor’s previous reports have not included the depth and detail necessary to prove to the community that the culture of the department has been transformed.

Dissatisfied with Castor’s performance and doubtful she can fulfill her duties as police monitor while she serves as mayor of Tampa, the board unanimously voted to recommend the city and DOJ agree to have Castor resign or fire her. The board also suggested finding a new independent monitor, though city officials said the Justice Department might be inclined to assume the responsibility in-house.

The police department has instituted several reforms to address the Justice Department’s specific concerns since 2013, including disbanding certain special units, adding training and changing how police-involved shootings are investigated. Mayor Francis Suarez and members of Police Chief Jorge Colina’s command staff were present Monday and defended the department’s improvements before the advisory board.

“I’ve seen a significant increase, under this police chief, of community policing and community outreach,” Suarez said.

Still, police misconduct occurs and is often reported to another oversight group that has a relationship with the community board, the Civilian Investigative Panel.

That panel’s review found that police were misusing body-worn cameras, which are meant to document the public interactions with cops and add a layer of accountability. The Miami New Times has reported on the panel’s critiques regarding misuse of body cameras.

The Community Advisory Board issued a report suggesting the police department should institute implicit bias training and beef up its body-worn camera policies to ensure officers use the devices properly.

Castor “never responded to it or has mentioned it in any of her reports,” Pinn said on Monday.

Castor was not present at Monday night’s meeting. As of early May, she had been paid $154,400.80 by the city for her work.

Castor’s office provided a statement refuting the advisory board’s assessment.

“Mayor Castor has enjoyed a positive working relationship with the Miami Police Department, Department of Justice and the Community Advisory Board over the past few years,” said Ashley Bauman, Castor’s communications director. “It is her opinion that the Miami police department has met the requirements of the agreement, as has been outlined in each report. Mayor Castor also understands that the agreement must remain open until 2020 per DOJ.”

City officials said they are in discussions with the Justice Department on how to proceed for the remainder of the agreement, which is set to end in 2020. When asked if he would suggest the city terminate Castor, Suarez told the Herald he intends to discuss the matter with Colina and City Manager Emilio Gonzalez.

Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, from votes at City Hall to neighborhood news. He won a Sunshine State award for revealing a Miami Beach political candidate’s ties to an illegal campaign donation. He graduated from the University of Florida.