By David Gee | Hillsborough County Sheriff
The upcoming Republican National Convention will transform the Tampa Bay area on an international level. Like no other, this event will showcase the area’s communities, as well as the Herculean task to provide security for citizens, delegates, visitors and everyone in-between.
Federal, state and local law-enforcement officers began planning for this event in June 2010. I am confident to tell the public we are prepared to make it a successful RNC in Tampa. The challenges of preparing for and executing a security/safety plan for an event of this magnitude are daunting. There are many pieces of the puzzle, most known but some unknown. For me, staffing is the critical piece to making it all work. Although the RNC is taking center stage and mandates a heavy commitment of sheriff’s personnel, plenty of deputies will still be available to answer calls for service throughout the county.
The RNC demands thousands of law enforcement officers to converge on downtown Tampa for a 24-hour-per-day presence. Some will be assigned special security details. Some will be responsible for getting the scores of buses and vehicles with delegates and VIPs to and from the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Some will be on the street. Some won’t be seen but poised to respond quickly and appropriately to a security situation. All of these law enforcement officers — some deputies, some police, some state troopers, some federal and state agents — will have to perform as a unified, cohesive unit. These law-enforcement officers from dozens of sheriff’s offices and police departments across the state must execute a uniform philosophy of crowd management and security. Blending all of the personnel has been a months-long strategy of training, scheduling and equipping.
Tactically, we are ready. Security plans for the venue and the perimeters are set. Boundaries, protests zones and parade routes are established for the thousands expected in downtown Tampa. This is a special time for local civic pride as Tampa Bay gets ready to shine. To the agitators and anarchists who want only to bring a dark cloud to this event, let me be clear: Criminal activity and civil disturbances will not be tolerated, and enforcement actions will be swift.
We are prepared for a peaceful and purposeful RNC. Part of our security planning process included discussions with law enforcement officials in Minneapolis-St. Paul about the mistakes and successes when that area hosted the RNC in 2008. Lessons learned were lessons included in our months of discussions about security.
The most visible aspect our security plan will be the boots on the ground — the law enforcement officers on the street, manning perimeter posts and designated protective locations. Their khaki-colored uniforms, clearly marked with “SHERIFF’’ or “POLICE,’’ are designed to provide the appearance of a fine-tuned machine. And it is. There will be a consistency in garb, response and reaction by all of the law-enforcement officers. You will also see hundreds of law-enforcement officers on bicycles, others on horseback. What the public won’t see is the staging of quick reactionary forces, tactically deployed at locations around the city to handle an emergency situation. These special contingents of law-enforcement officers are trained, equipped and prepared.
Although the biggest challenge is staffing, the logistics of housing, feeding, staging, scheduling and transporting thousands of law-enforcement officers each day had its own issues. We had to secure hundreds of hotel rooms, ample food vendors, buses and devise timetables for round-the-clock security coverage. When the law-enforcement officers are on duty at their assigned posts, one key will be to keep them hydrated. Dealing with the withering August heat and humidity was just another hurdle for us. Our law-enforcement officers will get plenty of water — each with Camelback hydration packs as part of their uniforms. Throughout the city, there will be specially assigned locations for security personnel to replenish and refresh. Keeping our law-enforcement officers cool and collected is paramount to everyone’s safety.
There will be arrests. The question is how many. We are prepared to handle any number of RNC-related arrests through our Orient Road Jail. We are committed to due process and the rule of law regarding RNC-related arrests. We have procedures and policies in place to ensure an orderly and lawful process for anyone arrested.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is excited to be teaming with the Tampa Police Department in our shared responsibility for RNC security. Our security plan would not be possible without the cooperation and dedication of other sheriffs and police chiefs around the state. For one week in August, there will be thousands of law-enforcement officers in Tampa with a laser focus: provide a safe and secure RNC.
Editor’s note: Officers from nearly 60 agencies throughout the state — including 21 from the Plant City Police Department — will assist in providing security during the Republican National Convention next week.AirCrack