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.