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Report: Tampa Police Write More Tickets Than Other Agencies

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

An analysis by The Tampa Bay Times showed that Tampa police wrote more tickets last year than sheriff's offices in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties combined and more per capita than cops in Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando, the state's four other largest cities.

And no other law enforcement agency in the state arrests more people than the Tampa Police Department.

The paper reported that each arrest, each ticket, feeds into a formula that calculates an officer's "productivity ratio" — number of hours worked divided by the number of tickets and arrests.

The more officers do, the better they score. But the formula doesn't discriminate between a murder arrest and a jaywalking ticket; they carry the same weight.

"It was a good program set up to get rid of the guys who weren't producing, sitting under a tree all night," said Brian Reschke, a patrol officer who retired in 2011. "It just got carried away."

Tampa police wrote more tickets for bicycle offenses than any other law enforcement agency in the state, and that eight out of 10 of the cyclists were black, according to an investigation by the newspaper.

Jon Dengler, who runs a ministry to feed the poor, has gotten nine traffic tickets in Tampa in the past six years. He got three from the same officer, adding up to $345, because his registration had expired and he didn't have his insurance card or license handy. Two of those tickets were dismissed.

"I love our neighborhood and I don't feel anxious or afraid," he told the City Council earlier this year. "But when I see TPD on the street, I do get nervous. I don't get nervous because I'm up to no good, but because of who they are and represent in our community."

The new police chief, Eric Ward, who took over in May, told officers to stop worrying so much about their statistics and focus on getting to know the people they police.

"That old fashioned 'arrest, arrest, arrest, citation, citation, citation' is not the key. It's not going to solve our problem with the crime," Ward said. "Getting back in to the community, walking around, talking to people. That alone will reduce crime."

The department made a significant change to the ratio in February, giving officers credit for written warnings instead of just citations and is on track to have its lowest ticketing year in at least a decade.