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Black law enforcement officers to meet in Tampa

By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002

TAMPA -- More than 2,500 black law enforcement officers will meet here today to kick off a weeklong conference at the Tampa Convention Center.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives will hold its annual conference through Thursday. FBI director Robert Mueller and National Public Radio host Tavis Smiley will give the keynote speeches.

Tampa police Deputy Chief Tina Wright helped organize the event. Tampa started courting the group for the conference more than two years ago, Wright said.

"The Marriott (Waterside) wasn't completed then," she said. "I guess they had a lot of faith in the Tampa Bay area."

The Marriott was the site of an alleged racial incident during a predominantly black convention last August. A white server was accused of tainting a bowl of fruit punch during a banquet for the Progressive National Baptist Convention, whose members then walked out. Wright said that incident was not considered when the Marriott was chosen as a host hotel. Delegates also are staying at other downtown hotels.

During the conference, dozens of workshops for officers will be held, covering such topics as terrorism, Internet crimes against children and racial profiling. NOBLE also will host workshops for local youths at the conference.

NOBLE was started in 1976 as a way to address the high rate of crime in urban, low-income areas. The group was especially concerned about the socioeconomic factors that lead to violence and criminal behavior.

The organization also wanted to focus on issues of fairness, community-police relations and problems facing black police executives.

Today, NOBLE's membership is not exclusive to the top brass; low-ranking officers also can join. NOBLE's membership nationwide is about 3,000, Wright said.

Tampa police Chief Bennie Holder is a member, as is Tampa Maj. Carl Davis, Tampa Detective Harry Watkins and Hillsborough County sheriff's Lt. Frederick Sails, among others.

Two of the conference's events will be open to the public.

One is the official opening session, which will start at 8 a.m. Monday. A memorial march and service, which will honor NOBLE members who died in the past year, will be Wednesday at 9 a.m. That event will feature a local youth choir and motivational speeches.

Both events will be at the Tampa Convention Center.

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