St. Petersburg is taking measures to help keep the city's Pride Parade safe
St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway asked attendees to report “anything suspicious,” from someone leaving a bag near the parade to online threats posted to Facebook.
The St. Petersburg Police Department expects 100,000 participants for the city's Pride Parade this weekend.
Chief Anthony Holloway said Thursday they haven’t come across any threats for the three-day event, but will “continue to monitor any intel that comes in or any tips.”
The department held a public safety meeting Thursday to discuss police presence over the weekend. Holloway said local, state and federal officers will be present, and both uniformed and undercover officers will spread out around the parade and downtown St. Pete.
While the department won’t be flying surveillance drones, Holloway said 75 cameras will be placed around the city.
St. Pete Pride president Tiffany Freisberg said the opportunity to put on such a large celebration is humbling.
“At St. Pete Pride, our goal is just to create a space in which everyone can be their own authentic self," Freisberg said.
But after planned attacks by right wing extremists at Pride events were thwarted by police around the country, Freisberg said she doesn't know what to expect this weekend.
Regardless, she said she feels safe.
"Our No. 1 priority is that we do create a safe event for all attendees and participants,” Freisberg said. “And we feel really, really confident in everything that we've seen that that's exactly what we're going to have this weekend."
Holloway said the department canceled officers’ vacations to make sure they had enough staff to keep parade attendees safe.
“Everyone’s day off has been canceled,” he said. “So, if you were on vacation, you had to come back.”
While Holloway declined to share how many police personnel would be on site, he said the department will have more than 500 officers at hand.
“We're celebrating Pride's 20th anniversary so we want to make sure this is a safe environment here,” he said. “I’d rather have more than enough than not enough.”
Holloway said "free speech zones" will be set up along the parade route, as dissenters have a First Amendment right to gather.
"You're allowed to go to that zone and speak very freely,” he said. “But if you're going to cause a disturbance where you're disorderly or you're causing some type of disturbance — a fight or anything — we will take you to jail. Period."
The chief asked attendees to report “anything suspicious,” from someone leaving a bag near the parade to online threats posted to Facebook.
Vehicle access to the St. Pete Pier closes at 2 p.m. until the end of the parade.
Holloway said this is to protect those participating and watching the parade from cars driving into the crowd.
Freisberg said she doesn’t know if there will be more disturbances than usual, but would leave that up to the “experts,” she said while turning to face Holloway.
She added that this would be the first Pride Parade in St. Petersburg since 2019, after cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think there’s a lot of pent-up energy and excitement for it,” she said.
WUSF Public Media will have a booth at the Pride Festival in North Straub Park from 2 to 9 p.m. Saturday.