That Tampa police were absurdly overzealous in stopping and often ticketing bike riders, with often deleterious effects on the less well-to-do, was already well known and reported on by me last year.
Tampa's bike enforcement problem became so notorious the federal Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) got involved in studying it. The result of their research was released today.
The investigation found, among other things, that the suspected racial disparities in bike rider ticketing were real.
The report studies bike ticketing patterns from January 1, 2014 to August 30, 2015, and found that although only 40 percent of total riders were black, 73 percent of riders stopped by Tampa cops were black.
And while the Tampa Police Department claimed that rigorous stopping of bike riders was a larger crime prevention measure, the DOJ found that there was no measurable crime reduction or any kind of positive impact on public safety from the bike stops. "The bicycle stop program did, however, negatively impact community and police relations," the press release noted.
The report did not try to claim that the racial disparities resulted from proven racial animus or discriminatory intent, however.
Fortunately, the percentage of citizens actually ticketed after being stopped is small, since it is those tickets and failure to pay them that spiral into true life-ruining situations for something that started as a very petty matter.
But the percentage of the stopped who are cited had also been disproportionately black, as the study wrote:
Even after adjusting for time and place of the stops, we still find that the percentage of Black bicyclists receiving citations exceeds that of White bicyclists. In fact, the percentage of Black and White stopped bicyclists receiving a citation is nearly identical to the unadjusted percentages— 5.3 percent of stopped Black bicyclists received citations, and 2.7 percent of matched White bicyclists received citations.
Interestingly, once Tampa PD policy changed to require documentation of bike stops after May 2015, things got a little different:
After May 2015, the TPD issued citations to 6.0 percent of stopped Black bicyclists and 6.1 percent of similarly situated stopped White bicyclists. It is unclear whether officers have changed their citation practices or have altered their documentation practices since May 2015. These findings indicate that stopped bicyclists who were Black received citations at a higher rate than stopped bicyclists who were White—even after matching on several relevant factors. Yet this difference disappeared after May 1, 2015, when the TPD changed its rules regarding the documentation of bicycle stops.
Text of the full study. It does not, alas, add to any systematized knowledge regarding what ends up happening to people receiving citations that require payment, how many go unpaid in a timely manner and what bad results arise from that, all issues the government seems unconcerned with.
Another terrible tale of enforcing bike law from Florida, involving riding the "wrong way" ending with an unarmed man shot and paralyzed.