How will Tampa police handle Republican National Convention protests? listen07/29/11 Kate Bradshaw
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In fewer than thirteen months, Downtown Tampa will be swarming with protesters, politicos, and news teams from across the country who will be in town for the Republican National Convention. Police are already preparing for the onslaught â€“ and so are civil liberties advocates.
The RNC has been heralded as an economic boon to any city it comes to, and Tampa is certainly no different. The question is, will the convention also leave in its wake the usual legacy of crackdowns on protesters and pricey lawsuits? Mark Hamlin, Assistant Chief of Police with the Tampa Police Department said theyâ€™re preparing for the worst, but thatâ€™s pretty much what police are supposed to do when tens of thousands of people are expected to descend upon the city.
â€œWe 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.â€
The host of the 2004 RNC, New York City has handed out at least $600,000 in settlements to protesters who were detained illegally. Hamlin said the department will do its best to bring in only those who actually break the law.
Law enforcement at the event will consist of local, state and federal entities, with the Secret Service at the top of the chain of command. Hamlin said while the police donâ€™t want to arrest those who arenâ€™t causing any trouble, thereâ€™s still the chance that someone may get hauled in without breaking the law, because theyâ€™re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He said the police can un-arrest those who have been detained without doing anything, and that their first priority is public safety.
John Dingfelder, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union and former Tampa city Council Member, said there are three types of people who usually congregate outside a political convention venue.
The organization has been working with the city and Tampa Police to develop a strategy to help officers balance public safety with protecting the First Amendment rights of protesters. Dingfelder said the ACLU advocates what he calls a â€œcatch and releaseâ€ system if officers see a need to arrest bystanders,
Dingfelder said the ACLU respects the role of police, and recognizes their mission of keeping the peaceâ€¦
â€¦but the ACLU also hopes the police minimize potential for collateral damage.
The RNC happens from August 27 to August 30 in 2012. Earlier this month, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn asked the federal government for $50 million to help cover security costs for the Republicanâ€™s convention. Buckhorn said he was not available for an interview.