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Tampa Police Chief Readies for Crush of Visitors, Protestors at GOP Convention

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor dropped by the WUSF studios this morning for a talk on how preparations are going for the upcoming Republican National Convention. More than 50,000 people are expected to descend on Tampa for the four-day event.

While Castor says the majority of people who come to the convention will be peaceful, police are prepared for the minority whose intentions are anything but.

"The eyes of the world will be upon us," she says.

Political conventions usually need from 3,500 to 4,000 police officers to maintain order, she says. But Tampa has only 1,000 officers. The rest will be coming mostly from sheriff's offices in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties - although some will be coming from as far as Miami.

But just how thoroughly trained will these officers be?

"Everyone is going through lengthy and in-depth crowd management training, which is provided by the Department of Homeland Security," she says. "And we actually have sent a contingent of officers from the Tampa Police department and the sheriff's office to these different agencies to train them in crowd management, to insure that everyone understands the tactics necessary and everyone understands the need to prevent any issues from occurring."

She says those other officers will be supervised directly by either someone from Tampa P.D. or the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office. And outside of the area directly controlled by the Secret Service, Castor will be in charge of every officer.

Here's some topics Chief Castor covered with WUSF's Craig Kopp:

  •  She says they're keenly following social media to see how that will be used by protestors to gather during the convention.
  • Preventing violent outbreaks before they occur is the key, she says.  "Now we are prepared for the worst, but if we allow it to become violent to a degree, then we have failed," she says.
  •  She says during the outbreaks in recent NATO summit in Chicago, about 90 people were arrested. She says that's about the number that Tampa police arrest during a typical Gasparilla invasion. So if they could keep the arrests at that level, Castor says she'll consider it a success.
  • Then, there's Florida's infamous heat. Castor says cooling stations will be set up and information will be passed out to visitors how they can keep from getting overheated. Preparations are also underway for anyone outdoors to get shelter from our equally infamous summer storms.
  •  The one-hour time limit on parades was based on how long people could last in the August sun.
  •  As for downtown businesses that are afraid they could be targeted by protestors, Castor says it's the more "iconic" buildings - such as government offices - that would likely be attacked, and police are prepared to help them take extra precautions.
  •  How traffic will be affected downtown should be determined six weeks before the convention, when the Secret Service will determine which areas will be cordoned off. But Castor says everything north of Kennedy Boulevard should be unaffected.

"I just want this to be an event that showcases all that's great about the Tampa Bay area, and law enforcement in Tampa," she says.


Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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