Before being Tampa police chief, Mary O’Connor oversaw two racist programs, files show | Tampa Bay News | Tampa

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Justin Garcia

Left to right: TPD Deputy Chief of Operations Lee Bercaw, Chief Mary O’Connor and Mayor Jane Castor at a press conference.

Tampa Police Department Chief Mary O’Connor was sworn in last month, but years before her appointment she oversaw two controversial programs that disproportionately harmed black tenants and cyclists in Tampa, according to the archives.

Documents obtained by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay show emails between O’Connor and other TPD officers discussing plans to ramp up bike stops in East Tampa, a predominantly black area, months after an investigation found the TPD was targeting black cyclists for on-road questioning and citations.

The program became known as “Biking While Black”.

O’Connor was also involved in a series of email exchanges that talked about her attending a lunch to talk about the merits of Tampa’s “Crime Free Multi-Housing” program, which disproportionately targeted black renters. to evict them and became known as “Renting While The Black.”

New documents obtained from a public records request also show that the program used more racist language and imagery than initially known.

CL’s public records request regarding O’Connor’s involvement in the programs was submitted Feb. 22-14 after Castor named her chief of police and sparked widespread controversy over D’s past arrest. ‘O’Connor for assaulting a law enforcement officer and missing Castor. transparency in the selection process.

Twenty-three days later, on March 17, the city council endorsed O’Connor in a 4–2 vote.

The investigation of the records remained unanswered.

At the request of this publication, the Florida Center For Government Accountability—a nonprofit government watchdog organization—emailed TPD on April 6 regarding the requested information, and six days later the request for CL was satisfied.

The emails span from 2012 to 2015, when O’Connor was rising through the ranks from major to deputy chief. She became deputy chief of operations in 2015, where she worked directly under then-police chief Jane Castor and chief Eric Ward. O’Connor retired from the TPD in 2016 and was selected as police chief by Mayor Castor in February.

one october A 2015 email from O’Connor’s time as deputy chief is labeled ‘restricted’, shows that an officer working under him advised TPD officers to increase bicycle citations in the district 3. The district covers East Tampa, Ybor and the Port of Tampa area and is known to be a predominantly black neighborhood.

The emails were sent to O’Connor five months after the US Department of Justice opened an investigation into TPD’s bike-stopping practices and six months after Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that the TPD disproportionately targeted black cyclists.

“We’ve done a great job this year in tackling crime, but we should always be looking for ways to improve,” then-captain Charles Courtoy, who worked under O’Connor, wrote in the Mail. email to senior District 3 officers. “One area that seems to offer the most opportunity is in bike stops.”

The officer then emailed O’Connor saying, “Here’s what I sent to the benchmark bikes.”

In its investigation, the DOJ concluded that the program “burdened black cyclists by disproportionately stopping them,” but “did not produce a community benefit in terms of bike safety, bike theft, or crime. in general”.

A 2012 email from Lt. Craig Sawicki – another officer who worked under O’Connor in District 3 – encouraged officers to “focus on bike stops, bike citations, field interrogations, controls of minors and adults, etc.” Grids Sawicki wanted to focus on 75, 86, and 87 inclusive, all in predominantly black neighborhoods in East Tampa.

“Please have zero tolerance in these areas,” read the email with O’Connor CC. These emails came at the height of the “Biking While Black” citation and arrest frenzy. No emails sent to O’Connor refer to a “zero tolerance policy” for cyclists in any of Tampa’s other wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.

A profile from the Tampa Bay Times of O’Connor’s initial retirement from TPD in 2016, said, “She held the reins as the department grappled with controversies such as racial disparities in her bike citations and a rise in violent crimes last year.”

While O’Connor was silent in many of the emails found in the public records request, she forwarded some to other members of the TPD, indicating that she was aware of what officers under her command were advising, under his direction.

O’Connor also had a role in Tampa’s “Renting While Black” program, which came under scrutiny last fall after a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that TPD was was partnered with landlords to evict tenants if they were involved in crimes as minor as begging and shoplifting. .

A 2015 email shows that O’Connor was to be a guest speaker at a luncheon for the Tampa Housing Authority (THA) to discuss the merits of the crime-free multiple housing program in low-income public housing communities.

“We ask that the main topics be based on your Crime Free Multi Housing program, community policing and the relationship between the TPD, THA and Residents Council to work together to deter and prevent crime in our social housing communities” , read Bill Jackson’s email request to the Tampa Housing Authority.

O’Connor told Jackson she would attend, and received documents from Jackson to prepare for the event. Over the phone, Jackson confirmed to CL that O’Connor spoke at the event, but said he “can’t remember” any details of what she said.

The current deputy chief of operations, Lee Bercaw, is also included in several of the emails and is listed as a point of contact for the program in a note sent by Castor.

Under the crime-free multi-housing program, 80% of those evicted were black, many of whom lived in public housing. Sometimes they were deported for crimes such as begging and petty theft. Meanwhile, O’Connor overcame his felony arrest to rise through the ranks and oversee these programs.

And new presentation slides obtained by CL show the crime-free program featured even more racist imagery and language than previously reported.

Click to enlarge A slide from the TPD presentation to landlords indicates that young people wearing sportswear and designer clothes could be gangsters.  - TAMPA POLICE DEPARTMENT/CRIME FREE MULTI-DWELLING PROGRAM

Tampa Police Department/Crime Free Multi-Dwelling Program

A slide from the TPD presentation to landlords indicates that young people wearing sportswear and designer clothes could be gangsters.

A slide from the presentation presented by the TPD to owners equates youths with gangsters if they wear “only one or two colors of clothing exclusively, including sportswear, designer clothing symbols and bandanas” .

The program manual demeaningly calls would-be criminals the “urban race of two-legged predators” and tells owners to “plan your words very carefully…discrimination lawsuits are filed when managers say too much!”

Connie Burton, an East Tampa resident and advocate for civil and economic equality for 40 years, said the black community owed “much more than an apology” to O’Connor and the TPD.

“We black people continue to be the cash cow for officers seeking promotions, like Mary O’Connor,” Burton told CL. “She skirted those racial issues during her confirmation process, which shows she doesn’t want to face the pain she’s caused honestly.”

Burton said East Tampa hasn’t seen enough action from the city to develop the area economically, to help repair the community that TPD has “damaged over the years.” She said crime-free multi-housing was just an extension of the old “one hit and you’re out” rule, which targeted poor black tenants to evict them.

“Until she apologizes in a meaningful way, her words don’t make sense to me,” Burton said.

CL has contacted TPD to see if Chief O’Connor would like to comment on her involvement in racially oriented programs and, given the effect this has had on Tampa’s black community, whether she thinks the community should apologies from TPD.

There was no response at the time of this story’s publication.

After initially standing behind the bike stop program, Castor — police chief during “Biking While Black” — changed her tune during her mayoral race, admitting the quotes were wrong. However, she has yet to officially apologize.

Castor has been a strong supporter of the crime-free multi-housing program despite cries from the ACLU, NAACP, and civil rights groups and lawyers across the country. Eventually, however, the crime-free housing program was replaced with a less intrusive model under acting police chief Ruben “Butch” Delgado, whom Castor ignored when selecting a police chief at first. of this year.

Notes recently obtained from a 2019 TPD meeting show that TPD leaders were preparing for a backlash against the ACLU and NAACP’s crime-free multi-housing program. At the meeting, TPD officers discussed amending the “questionable parts” of the program’s lease addendum, to avoid a pushback.

Click to enlarge Notes from a TPD meeting on crime-free multi-housing, where they called the NAACP a "NWACP." - TAMPA POLICE DEPARTMENT

Tampa Police Department

Notes from a TPD meeting on crime-free multi-housing, where they referred to the NAACP as “NWACP”.

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