Tampa officials and the ACLU of Florida prepare for legal issues during Republican convention

07/11/12 Liz McKibbon
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Next month’s Republican National Convention will bring with it additional regulations from the city of Tampa. The Florida ACLU held a webinar Tuesday night to inform citizens about what to expect.

More than 70 participants viewed the presentation put together by representatives from the ACLU and various city and county departments. Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor also participated, but her audio was not transmitted to most participants. City Attorney Jim Shimberg outlined the official parade route ending at two demonstration areas the city is calling public viewing areas. Free permits are required for the parade route and are still available in 90 minute increments on a first come first serve basis. Joe Chillura Park, located on Kennedy in downtown Tampa will also be available for spontaneous demonstrations. Groups under 50 and visitors to the seven acre public viewing areas do not need a permit. City attorney Jim Shimberg,

“The public viewing area is going to be open 24-hours, we’ll have a speaker’s podium available in the area that will be available in 30 minute increments, there is also a place to sign up for that. That’s going to be available from 9 am until sometime in the evening—11 pm.”

Critics complain the parade route and public viewing area are too far from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the convention will be held. But the city says the area is as close as reasonably possible, since secret service agents will be in charge of patrolling the area adjacent to the convention. The exact footprint of this area is yet to be determined. If protestors do have a run-in with law enforcement, James Shaw, a lawyer with the ACLU advises giving the officers accurate information.

“You may refuse to answer questions but you do have to identify yourself to a police officer. Always remain polite with police officers, never resist a police officer. It’s recommended that you ask a police officer if you are free to leave. The stop may be considered voluntary until you ask to leave.”

Shaw advises asking the officer what crime is suspected if an arrest is made, and remaining silent until council is present. Public defenders will be available during the convention. The ACLU does not recommend civil disobedience or knowingly violating the law as a protest. Citizens do not have the right to advocate imminent violence, trespass on private property, block traffic or interfere with police activity. Tampa ACLU lawyer Lisa Streater says constitutional rights do not extend to private property.

“In public it is lawfully—you are able to photograph anything in plain view, federal building, transportation facilities, police officers… again, we have the rule with respect to private property, these rules do not apply. If you have permission of a private property owner that’s one thing, but again, know, that these constitutional rights are not generally in effect when you are on private property.”

Florida has strict audio recording laws so the ACLU advises using caution when capturing audio when a reasonable level of privacy is expected. Streater says photographs and videos are protected by first amendment rights.

“Police officers may not view your photographs. Contents of your phone may be searched upon arrest, and may be considered evidence. If it’s evidence of a crime, police may seize your camera, but the police officers may not delete or destroy your photographs under any circumstances.”

The city will make available a number of services during the convention, including 575 port-o-lets with hand washing stations, hydration areas with drinking water, air conditioned rest and rehab areas and Medical Reserve Core personnel providing basic medical attention. A number of objects will be banned from an area in and around downtown the city is calling an Event Zone. That includes aerosol cans and metal-tipped umbrellas.

slideshow from ACLU webinar

RNC information and permitting from the City of Tampa

What items are allowed in Tampa during the RNC:

Items prohibited from citywide with intent to cause harm or injury (refer to city ordinance for full list): - Weapons including air rifle, air pistol, paintball rifle, explosives, blasting caps, switchblades, hatchets, slingshots, bb or pellet guns, chain, shovel and more. - Any container filled with bodily fluid, including urine or fecal matter - Any container filled with liquid, solid or gas (plastic water bottles okay if not used for harming others) - Device for launching projectiles, or throwing or spraying any object or material, water guns and super soakers

Items prohibited from event zone regardless of intent (refer to city ordinance for full list): - Rope, chain, cable wire greater than 6 feet in length - Breakable containers, glass bottles, light bulbs, ceramic vessels - Locks, bicycle locks, pad locks - Material designed, intended or readily adaptable as a shield, but not including non-metal tipped umbrellas - Gas masks (not including medical oxygen masks)

Items prohibited from viewing area regardless of intent (refer to city ordinance for full list): - Aerosol cans - Weapons - Camping gear - Coolers, ice chests - Fireworks - Lasers - Non-plastic containers - Ladders, monopods, tripods - Umbrellas with metal tips

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