Tampa Police Department considers several tools for 2012 RNC protesters listen10/12/11 Josh Holton
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Last week the St. Petersburg Times reported the Tampa Police Department was considering a range of security measures for next year’s Republican National Convention. But the police have backed away from one part of that inventory, unmanned aerial surveillance aircraft.
The drones the police had been considering are smaller than Predator aircraft used by the U.S. in the skies over Pakistan and Yemen. Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin said the Tampa Police Department was considering the purchase of two smaller unmanned aircraft.
"So we’re not gonna dig further into the drone situation. But they were smaller; the ones you described that you could hold in your hand and deploy from the back of a vehicle. They only fly for about 20 minutes…I can tell you this: Aviation is a very expensive part of the police budget. Our job is keeping this city safe. I think we owe it to the public to explore a way of doing that more efficiently and effectively, especially if it saves money. But I don’t think the drones that we actually put in the request for the proposal for the camera system were the type we need to look at.”
Hamlin said that while keeping a tight budget is important, there were other reasons for dropping the drones.
“A couple of other things came into play. Would there be federal aviation restrictions that the FAA could have? Also, the ones we were looking at only flew for 20 minutes; was that efficient enough? Because sometimes you get a helicopter up on an active crime scene, they could be up there for hours. So it might not have been efficient. But I think in the future these are things. That all municipalities need to explore that have expensive aviation units. So that’s something we might have to look at in the future.”
But even without Unmanned Aerial Vehicles patrolling the skies Hamlin said there will be plenty of other plans for aerial security.
“Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office are dedicated to providing air support for the Republican National Convention. We’ve also got some loose commitments from some federal agencies that might provide air support as well like the Coast Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Customs and Border patrol. So I think we’re going to be set with enough aviation support.
During protests of recent political nomination conventions, there have been thousands of arrests. As a consequence, many of the protesters have won monetary settlements from the cities. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he is committed to protecting free-speech, but last month he promised to take a hard line against what he called “anarchists.”
“What I will not tolerate is somebody who chooses to break the law. We will have zero tolerance for that, and we will be brutally efficient in exercising our responsibilities to make sure that those visitors and those conventioneers and everyone else is safe, including the safety of my officers.”
Back in July Hamlin told WMNF that police will be fully equipped to suppress any violent or illegal activity.
“We are prepared for a civil unrest situation. We trained for that, we have equipment for that, we have certain weapons for that, and we have chemicals for that.”
More recently Hamlin clarified the arsenal would include bean bag guns, tear gas, and pepper spray. But he said innovative technology such as deafening sonic cannons, or the heat ray called the Active Denial System could be considered. But Hamlin said only weapons without major side effects will be used. Hamlin said he wants Tampa to be a model for future political nominating conventions. With proper police training, he says that lawful protesters will be protected not arrested.