A Call to Action

In 2009, Florida had the most public officials (appointed and elected) convicted of corruption crimes in the U.S. and it is easy to understand why. The epidemic stems from:

a) The lack of meaningful sanctions when public officials violate laws;

b) Cash passing openly from private interests to officials, and unfettered campaign financing; and

c) Officials assuming they are operating a “revenue-generating business,” often in partnership with private corporate interests, whereby the public is merely the revenue source.

At least seven problems should be addressed, in a timely manner, by State and federal officials.

  1. Intervention is needed to assure public officials in Tampa do not use the Republican National Convention as an “official” fundraiser, especially among protesters. The City of Tampa already produces excessive numbers of tickets and arrests because they assume a “business” approach, instead of a “community” approach. An outside agency is needed to investigate any unresolved complaints of police fraud or fabrication of evidence, and to assure that court hearings are recorded so that defendants can access documentation of the proceedings if appealing a verdict and/or filing a complaint against a public official (officer or judge), recognizing the local court does not consistently record all hearings.

As explained in the deposition of Assistant Police Chief John Bennett, the Tampa police abandoned their “community” approach toward policing and developed a “business” approach, which is the “business” of generating tickets and arrests that result in court cases and fines. They have had an arrest quota, in addition to the traffic ticket quota. A Tampa police sergeant explained that toward the end of each month, she would tell her squad how many tickets and arrests were needed by the month’s end. She said the arrest quota was much more difficult to achieve than the ticket quota. In my lawsuit, I provided a 2005 e-mail, which was circulated to Tampa officers at roll-call and disclosed the average number of tickets and arrests per officer, which would be used in evaluating officers. The e-mail states, “We just need the numbers!

The Tampa police “business” approach results in ticket and arrest quotas that foster a wealth transfer from the public to accounts controlled by public officials. Nearly 10 years ago, the Tampa police doubled the number of arrests. They currently arrest about 45,000 people a year. Almost half are for a crime titled “miscellaneous.” Thus, the Tampa police have been generating about 185,000 court cases per year (140,000 tickets and 45,000 arrests). However, for them, this was inadequate. In 2011, the Tampa police added a red-light camera program, and a newspaper subsequently reported that Tampa produces more camera tickets than any other city or county in Florida, which is achieved by setting inadequate yellow light timings. The Tampa police are on track to issue 65,000 camera tickets annually. While Tampa officials contend they will “save lives” with their cameras, they failed to inform the public that Tampa averages two red light running fatalities per year, and news reports reveal these fatalities occur from unintentional red light running, which cameras cannot impact.

Thus, the Tampa police “business” should produce about 250,000 court cases and fines annually (140,000 traffic tickets, 45,000 arrests, 65,000 camera tickets), despite Tampa’s population being only 335,000. This reveals the debauched outcome that is created when a law enforcement agency uses a “business” approach, emphasizing revenue generation.

From my perspective, the Tampa Police Department would greatly benefit from new leadership in addition to new legal counsel, as the current standards are too low. The FBI publishes a journal that details best police practices, in the context of constitutional rights and officer safety – practices that could be adopted by the Tampa Police Department. Over a 15 year time period (1996 – 2011), eight Tampa police officers were killed on duty, with only one stemming from a motor vehicle accident. This is almost 1% of the police workforce! Many of the deaths resulted in a Tampa police policy change, meaning had the policy previously existed, the officer’s death may have been prevented. Thus, more effective policies are needed, not just for the public, but also to protect officers.

  1. Public officials in Tampa who advanced practices that appear to violate Florida law and the U.S. Constitution should be held accountable for their behavior. Florida Statute 316.066 Written Report of Crashes states: “4) Such report or statement may not be used as evidence in any trial, civil or criminal.” With regard to reports being submitted as testimony, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled: Under Crawford, a witness’s testimony against a defendant is inadmissible unless the witness appears at trial or, if the witness is unavailable, the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross examination (541 U. S., at 54). This also assumes reports are entered into the record as evidence.
  • John Bennett, Tampa’s Assistant Police Chief, made an untruthful statement in an affidavit submitted to federal court in my lawsuit; and he attended the second mediation in my lawsuit, where he refused to amend Tampa’s policies to conform with State law or to correct the false entries on my false crash report.
  • Jane Castor, Tampa’s Police Chief, attended the first mediation and told me the City would settle with me only if they could not get my lawsuit dismissed, which suggests she wanted to continue the unlawful practices.
  • Kirby Rainsberger, Tampa police attorney, who knew the law prohibits the use of crash reports in court, yet the Tampa police policy permitted their use nonetheless, and he refused to correct the errors on my crash report, despite Florida law stating that placing false information on a crash report is a crime.
  • Ursula Richardson, Tampa police attorney, attended the depositions in my lawsuit and thus had firsthand knowledge of my allegations that Tampa’s policies violated certain laws, and yet took no action.
  • Clerk of Court, manages the office that receives the crash reports from the Tampa Police Department and then provides them to judges for court hearings, contrary to Florida law.
  • Chief Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, Hillsborough County, (or alternatively the judge ultimately responsible) for permitting the practice of submitting ex parte crash reports to court, recognizing attorneys for the Tampa police documented in my lawsuit that I should have sued the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit over this practice.
  1. Ban traffic ticket and arrest quotas, as they clearly lead to fraud.

It is erroneous to believe that a law enforcement officer can know, a priori, the number of persons they will find violating a traffic law or committing a crime. While Tampa’s Police Chief Hogue (deposition) stated that quotas are illegal, he also endorsed evaluating officers on their number of tickets and arrests, which is contradictory. A “quota” is achieved by evaluating officers on their numbers of tickets and/or arrests.

  1. Create a process to assure public officials are investigated when citizens allege they have violated a State law or the Constitution.

For example, once I discovered the police and court were permitting the secret use of crash reports (including false reports) as evidence in court, I called the Florida Attorney General’s office and was advised they counsel public officials, and not the public. They had me call the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which did nothing. The FDLE supervisor said the media was the best means to disclose the improprieties, which is an inadequate accountability system. The FDLE supervisor told me their responsibilities do not include investigating police departments, and they refused to investigate Tampa’s policies that I alleged violate State laws. The Florida Attorney General’s office had said Tampa’s mayor is responsible for abiding by laws. However, when I filed a complaint with Tampa’s mayor, he merely referred it to the police chief. Police chiefs are not going to investigate themselves, such that some other agency and process are needed.

As another example, in 2008, Tampa’s local sheriff advanced a red-light traffic camera program despite a Florida Attorney General (AG) opinion that such programs were not legal in Florida. Also, scientific research concludes the cameras are ineffective despite the auto insurance industry contending otherwise. The local County Commission approved the sheriff’s camera program despite the AG opinion, thereby increasing revenue for their own spending while apparently violating the law in partnership with a private camera vendor. Many other police chiefs and city councils in Florida did likewise, making revenue generation in partnership with corporate interests more important than abiding by State law. These elected officials experienced no consequences – no fines, sanctions or removal from office. When sued over their illegal camera programs, they merely used taxpayer money to defend their camera programs. They generally lost and had to refund the fines. In contrast, citizens are prosecuted for violating laws and are fined per day for code violations, consequences that could also apply to all public officials.

  1. Discontinue Florida’s kickback law between auto insurance companies and police pensions — a law that mandates increased pension benefits when auto insurance increases — as it violates the U.S. Constitution and Florida law.

This law essentially functions as a bribe to police officers to write more traffic tickets, which then allows insurance companies to charge higher rates. As noted in my lawsuit, the federal court has ruled that a public official cannot personally profit from their official decisions. Yet, in Florida, police officers are rewarded for writing more tickets that increase auto insurance rates. If the Florida legislature is unwilling to correct this perverse arrangement, the U.S. Attorney General should assure the practice is stopped. Further, it is fiscally irresponsible to guarantee any group of employees unfettered pension increases, arbitrarily based on insurance increases. While a tax on auto insurance can be the State contribution to police pensions, it should not flow to the municipality that generated the tax, but instead be based on some other factor, such as population size, meaning larger cities would get proportionally more, regardless of the tax amount generated.

  1. Enforce the law that police pensions must be audited annually by an independent firm, and require annual audits of the Tampa Fire & Police Pension using GAAP, beginning with fiscal year 2011.

State and local officials (mayor and City Council) have failed to safeguard pension assets by not annually auditing the $1.4 billion Tampa Fire and Police Pension using an independent firm and generally accepted accounting principles. It is an invitation for corruption, as it allows for pilfering pension assets. Instead, it appears State, City and Pension Board officials have allowed a firm, that reports it is not independent, to make annual financial disclosures, which document: “Management has elected to omit substantially all of the disclosures required by accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America,” and if the omitted disclosures were included, it might lead to different conclusions about net assets available to pay benefits.

  1. Discontinue the “variable” contribution rate to the Tampa Fire & Police Pension, since it permitted the underfunding of the pension under Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, and, instead, require a “fixed” contribution rate based on estimates from the Florida Division of Retirement, once the pension is audited.

In 2004, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio supported the police and firefighter ploy for a 26% to 40% pension benefit increase, with the 40% benefit achieved by pensionable overtime. Under the former pension benefit, contribution rates averaged 6% for employees and 8% for the City. The legislative analysis by the Florida Division of Retirement estimated employee contribution rates would need to increase to 12-17% and City contributions to 16-23%. The doubling to tripling of these contribution rates was necessary, because the increase was not pro-rated. Senior officers and firefighters were able to retire immediately after the pension increase, despite the increase being unfunded, meaning young officers and firefighters must help fund their unfunded pension increase. This is inequitable and was advanced by senior personnel for the benefit of senior personnel (who have retired). Employee contribution rates were 11-12% in fiscal years 2004 and 2005, consistent with the funding plan. Then, the rate plummeted to 1% in 2006. From 2007-2010, employee contribution rates were meager – 2%, 3%, 4%, and 7%. This also reduced the City’s contribution to the pension, as the City pays 1.34 times the employee rate. The employee contribution rate was subsequently increased to 14.7% in fiscal year 2011, just in time for a new mayor.

This also requires addressing the creation of “Haves” and “Have Nots” among police officers and firefighters in Tampa. Beginning in 2004, senior officers and firefighters could retire and receive the pension benefit increase even though it was unfunded, leaving the City (taxpayers) and young officers and firefighters to fund the increase for senior personnel. This should be remedied.