Tampa Bay PD's 'Crime-Free Housing' Program Disproportionately Targeted Black Residents, Did Nothing To Reduce Crime

from the 'as-much-crime-as-elsewhere-housing'-just-not-nearly-as-catchy dept

It looks like landlords in Florida want to get back to things that made this country great: bigotry, segregation, and oppression. And look who’s willing to pitch in! Why, it’s that old friend of racists, local law enforcement. (h/t WarOnPrivacy)

Since 2013, the Tampa Police Department has taken a hands-on role at more than 100 apartment communities, sending notices to landlords when their tenants are arrested or stopped by officers and encouraging their eviction.

The program, known as Crime-Free Multi Housing, was marketed to landlords as a way to keep violent crime and drug and gang activity off their properties.

Police pledged to create a database of “documented violent offenders, gang members or career criminals involved in your community.” It alerted landlords to tenants arrested for armed robbery and drug dealing.

Sounds like the sort of things cops should be doing. Sounds like a valuable contribution to public safety. Sounds like law enforcement is keeping dangerous crime out of shared housing, improving the living situations of tenants.

That’s what it sounds like when the cops talk about it. That’s what the surface gloss reflects back to those unwilling to dig deeper. Fortunately, the Tampa Bay Times (which has done amazing work detailing ‘pre-crime’ harassment programs operated by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office) has dug deeper. What seems like a net gain for public safety is apparently just another way for cops and landlords to target minorities.

[R]oughly 90 percent of the 1,100 people flagged by the program were Black, police records show. That’s despite Black residents making up only 54 percent of all arrests in Tampa over the past eight year.

Believe it or not, the program is less shitty and racist than it was four years ago, when the Tampa Bay Times first started asking questions about it. Once it became apparent there were outside eyes watching, the PD dialed it back a bit, sending out fewer letters and being less insistent about evictions.

But that’s not an endorsement of the program’s current iteration. Like any other law enforcement organization, the Tampa PD talks a good game about fighting violent crime and keeping drugs off the street. But like most law enforcement agencies, it likes to throw resources at the pettiest of crimes while claiming it’s all about ensuring the public’s safety.

[T]he program also swept up more than 100 people who were arrested for misdemeanors — and dozens more whose charges were later dropped, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.

Despite the damning reporting, the program is unlikely to be altered further or abandoned. The initiative was put in place while Jane Castor was the Tampa Bay PD’s police chief. She’s now the mayor of Tampa. It’s also supported unquestioningly by the Tampa Housing Authority, which handles nearly a quarter or the notices issued by police. Here’s the Housing Authority’s director of public safety, Bill Jackson, letting Tampa residents know he doesn’t think much of the Constitution or due process.

“We don’t need a conviction,” Jackson said. “We just need reasonable suspicion.”

Swell. And here’s former police chief, current mayor Jane Castor with a statement that is directly contradicted by the Housing Authority’s statement:

“I don’t think that the landlords are evicting somebody based on a notice of arrest,” Castor said.

Well, it looks like that’s exactly what they’re doing. And the contradictions don’t end there:

Police spokesperson Jamel Lanee said in April that police don’t send notices to landlords about “misdemeanor traffic offenses, a misdemeanor arrest of a juvenile or an offense involving domestic violence.”

But the Times review found that 44 tenants had been flagged to their landlord for domestic violence incidents since the program began, along with 13 for small-time drug busts and two for driving with a suspended license.

Despite the unwavering support of officials offering contradictory statements, the program doesn’t appear to have any noticeable effect on crime rates and public safety. Reports of serious crimes at participating properties have decreased 28% since 2013. But reports of serious crime have dropped 25% across the city over the same time period.

The entire report by the Tampa Bay Times is worth reading. It shows how the Tampa PD has pursued this program aggressively, making entire families homeless over things like misdemeanor charges (and just charges, not convictions) and criminal acts that took place miles away from the targeted residence or by people who were on the lease but no longer lived at those addresses.

And while the Times notes there have been improvements over the years, it also correctly points out no one felt like reining any of this apparent racism in until reporters started asking questions the PD had no easy answers for. Its current form may be an improvement over its debut model, but it’s still little more than a targeted harassment program that makes it easier for landlords to expel black tenants.

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Comments on “Tampa Bay PD's 'Crime-Free Housing' Program Disproportionately Targeted Black Residents, Did Nothing To Reduce Crime”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“We don’t need a conviction,” Jackson said. “We just need reasonable suspicion.”
Also know as how the law works for THOSE people.

“I don’t think that the landlords are evicting somebody based on a notice of arrest,” Castor said.
Have you asked or is what you think better than the reality your racist program is running amok?

How many letters have they sent out about the cops beating their wives and mistresses?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Even if it worked as intended....

The program is so fundamentally fucking stupid. Even if they did it only for convicted felons (who didn’t wind up canceling their lease and moving stuff into storage because, well jal) keeping felons from acquiring legitimate housing would be the opposite of a good thing! It was a dumb idea for pedophiles and an even worse one for any criminal, and worse yet still on only charges.

Every family actually evicted has grounds for damages in a lawsuit against the county police force for good reason. How would you like it if I showed up to your landlord and accused you of being a drug dealer with no proof?!

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Even if it worked as intended....

"How would you like it if I showed up to your landlord and accused you of being a drug dealer with no proof?!"

As That One Guy implied…deny a person basic citizenry membership privileges entirely based on skin color for long enough and you end up with a higher proportion of coloured people being criminals simply because that’s the sole option they have.

After which you can point at the statistics and start backing your racism with facts based on the situation you helped set up. Very neat.

What is truly toxic here is that to most closet racists it’s become a natural situation that black people and latinos live in crime-riddled and fiscally disadvantaged areas. Yet they don’t even realize that this situation makes systemic racism self-evident.

There was a guy around here recently who did exactly that lambasted the focus on racism as an "excuse for everything" while ironically missing that wage gap, white dogs, evictions and refused tenancy or loans based on skin color – the examples he brought up to ridicule – are, in fact, all real things.

The OP here is unfortunately not exactly new. It’s just a bit more subtle than the same phenomenon practiced in the 60’s.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Most rental contracts these days have a clause making criminal activity a violation of the terms, justifying eviction. To see some examples, search "rental clause for illegal activity." (link)

In fact, many of these make crimes committed against tenants grounds for eviction. (I.e., Evan comes uninvited and beats up Alice is grounds for evicting Alice.)

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

In fact, many of these make crimes committed against tenants grounds for eviction. (I.e., Evan comes uninvited and beats up Alice is grounds for evicting Alice.)

That’s goes from stupid to just straight up evil. If you’re the victim of a crime that’s grounds to evict you, because clearly you haven’t suffered enough and all that matters is the owner of the apartment/buildings being able to tout how no crime is allowed in their buildings.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Have these people failed to pay their rent, or otherwise violated the terms of their lease?

See the neighboring comment by Tanner Andrews about "no crime" provisions in leases, and the lower standard of proof required for eviction. And let’s not act too surprised when we find out the cops have also been telling employers, thus getting people fired so that they will fail to pay their rent (and, being jobless and homeless, may well resort to crime—even such sinister things as sleeping in a park).

Not a Code Monkey says:

Re: Re:

I suspect some idiot thought about it in terms of reducing crime in those particular housing locations, so they could say they were reducing ‘urban blight’ or some such.

In aggregate, of course you’re right, and this is an asinine plan – but some people are perfectly willing to say ‘lets make a small safe enclave and let the rest of the world go to hell’.

Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of them end up in government.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

A little background

I have not handled any of these cases down in Hillsborough, but suspect that there are similarities to other areas. So, a few things to know.

  1. Many housing-authority-type leases have no-crime provisions. If anyone in the household commits a crime on the premises, and sometimes off premises, the family can be put out. I do not say that this is sound policy, that is above my pay grade. But it is there, largely due to dim-witted Federal encouragement. So there may be some basis for LL to evict.

  2. If the tenant has counsel, the chances are good that the eviction can be defeated, with fees. The burden is on the LL to prove up the crime, and the statute has a fee-shifting provision. I bet nearly every county, and surely one as large as Hillsborough, has attys who are willing to take on housing authorities.

  3. Eviction is civil, so the standard is preponderence, not reasonable doubt. However, the evidence of the crime is often tightly held by the police, such that the LL may not be able to prove their case. Of course, if the problem is such that neighbors are complaining, the LL will probably have an easy job. But that is a different, and more justified, eviction.

  4. I have seen LLs just entirely blow the 45 days on this sort of case. If LL does not bring it within 45 days, it is barred by the statute. And if the police hold on to the evidence long enough, well.

I am sure there are competent attys on the west coast, and they should know these things if they handle LL/Tenant matters.

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