Mayor Buckhorn and Tampa officials hold third and final town hall meeting about Republican convention listen08/17/12 Liz McKibbon
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In contrast to ongoing police trainings, the mood was a laid back Thursday night at the third and final town hall meetings about the Republican convention. Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other city officials voice confidence in their preparation.
More than 100 citizens and city officials filled the Kate Jackson Community Center in Hyde Park. The city has completed a number of beautification and infrastructure projects. Buckhorn said hosting the event is an investment in Tampa, and asked citizens to exercise patience during the event.
“And I’m going to preface all of what we’re saying today by acknowledging that there will be inconveniences. You can’t host an event of this size without challenges, and we all understand that. There will be traffic issues. There will be some congestion issues. There will be parking issues. There will be confrontations, between protesters and law enforcement.”
The event conveyed an overall confident tone, with praise to and from all departments about the extensive planning and preparation. The Mayor took a more serious tenor regarding potential threats to police.
“Those that choose a different course, we will deal with them, too. And we will not allow what we have seen in some other cities to occur. Whether its property damage, whether its destruction and most certainly—most certainly—you will not attack our police officers.”
Police will be outfitted with lighter-weight tan uniforms during the convention, rather than their usual dark blue garb. Police Chief Jane Castor said the uniform change is not only to combat the summer weather but to give officers a softer, more approachable image. She said turtle gear, or riot equipment, will only be added on if needed. Castor said most visitors will not want to incite violence, but knows some will.
“But there’s no doubt that there will be a small percentage that will come here intent on disruption and destruction. And it’s going to be our job to identify them, get them out of the crowd with a sense of urgency so that we can restore that peaceful environment in which everyone can express their view points. And to that end, we have trained a great deal.”
Castor said each officer working at the event participated in 10 days of intense training, including a focus on homeland security, first amendment rights and overall peaceful tone desired for the event.
“We have what we call ‘the golden rule’ at the Tampa Police Department, and that’s something that the officers hear when I swear them in and they hear it throughout their career. And that is, everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Everyone. And actually what I say is everyone is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their station in life. It doesn’t matter if their in handcuffs in your backseat or the most influential person in Tampa, everyone is treated the same.”
Officials also recognized the possibility of a hurricane or other natural disaster during the Convention. Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Thomas Forward is operating as head of the Office of Emergency Management. He said more than 100 administrative officials from state and federal departments will assemble during the convention to handle any major emergencies. Forward said city services should continue as usual.
“The resources to respond, whether its suppression activities, hazardous materials activities, or emergency medical services, you will not see a degradation in your services. We have decentralized units and apparatus to move them away from the congested areas, so they can quickly and rapidly respond to you in the event of an emergency, with the most plausible manner—in the most field expedient manner that this city can afford to you.”
A loading and unloading area for passengers arriving in downtown will be set up on Ashley Drive near Kennedy Boulevard in an attempt to get people in and out quickly. Some parking areas, including the Fort Brooke monthly lot, will require a vehicle inspection from secret service officials. All on-street parking meters will be inactive during the week, most with “no parking” signs. Jim Corbett is Parking Division Executive Manager for the City of Tampa.
“The spaces that are available will be bagged as well, but they will have a two hour limit sign on there. That’s two hours free actually—which is important to know. The pay stations will be taken out of service for their protection, the large solar panels on the machines; we recognize those as possible targets.”
Solar trash compactors will also be removed from downtown for the same reason. Not everyone visiting will be bent on destruction or expressing First Amendment rights during the Republican convention. Jonathan, who wouldn’t give his last name, said he came from Portland, Oregon to administer care to those in need. He said he is in Tampa for three weeks and hopes to work in tandem with local EMS.
“So I’m here as a street medic, which means offering basically first aid and comfort care. A person in favor—to support people who are here to speak their voice, protest against Republican National Convention. Some things that are underway in preparation are trying to offer people basic self-care and sort of group care—first aid steps in this climate, in this area to be able to take care of themselves and each other.”