Police officers train in Tampa for RNC bike patrol
The Tampa Police Department will be purchasing 200 bicycles costing nearly $1,600 each for use during the Republican National Convention in August. This week, officers from five law enforcement agencies across the state are being trained on how to safely patrol from a bicycle. Tampa police captain Brian Dugan said there are several reasons why a bicycle patrol program will help with security efforts during a convention that is expected to draw 70,000 visitors.
âWhen you have that much, when you have traffic â whether it be pedestrian traffic or vehicle traffic â itâs easier to get officers around on bikes. Weâre hoping that by officers on bikes theyâre a lot more approachable. Weâre expecting many visitors- all types of people, walks of life, from all over the world. Our law enforcement officers that are out there on bicycles, weâre hoping that people feel a lot more comfortable approaching officers.â
But bikes might not necessarily soften the image of a 4,000 officer strong police presence. During the 2008 RNC in St. Paul, officers routinely used the bike as a tool to separate themselves from protesters. Kyle Cockream, a Hillsborough County Sheriffâs captain, said that is something officers can do to ensure their own safety.
âOften times the bike can be used as â no different than a car. If there is a problem, theyâll put the bike between themselves and the problem. Those kind of things. When youâre working with other agencies collectively â youâre working in a group, in a large crowd â you always have safety concerns about staying together and being mindful of the tempo of the crowd. So, itâs not all that unlike what they do everyday.â
But in some instances the bikes werenât just used as a barrier from encroaching crowds. In online videos from the 2008 RNC protests, some officers can be seen using them to push people away. When asked whether bike patrol officers would be trained to do that, Tampa Policeâs Dugan didnât answer directly.
âThe officerâs going to be trained in all different types of aspects. Itâs hard to say exactly how they will be used. Itâs just going to depend on the situation that these officers are put in.â
The 200 bicycles will be purchased from Safariland â the same company that sells pepper spray and body armor. The purchase will whittle away another $320,000 from the $50 million given to the city by the federal government for security. During their training, officers rode bikes up and down the waterfront stairs behind the Straz Center and learned to drop them to the ground as they dismounted and started to run. Dugan said making bikes durable enough to endure that is why the bikes are expensive.
âI think the difference is these bikes are going to be used in a different type of environment. You can see the types of steps that they have to go up. You know, weâre not doing the average road biking and on trails and things like that. The terrain that they will be used on is a lot different than the average person and thatâs why it requires such training and it requires a more durable bike.â
In all, 15 agencies across the state will participate in the RNC bike patrol. Officers from five of those agencies will receive a national certification from the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association funded through the cityâs existing training budget. Itâs something Hillsborough County Sheriffâs captain Kyle Cockream said is only one component of security plans.
âThis is going to be a huge undertaking for our greater Tampa Bay area so weâve reached out to our partners across central Florida â actually throughout the entire state of Florida â many of which are going to be sending assets. Not all of them are going to be designated as the bicycle response team. Weâre going to be utilizing people across the board to do a lot of different things. Luckily â or not unluckily, whichever you prefer to use â over the years, the agencies that are here today, weâve worked very hard to form partnerships.â
And one of those partnerships will be with the United Stateâs National Guard. Tampa Police Departmentâs public information officer, Laura McElroy, said guardsmen will be used in far fewer numbers than some people have speculated.
âWe only have 1,000 Tampa police officers. We need somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 for the size of the crowd that weâre anticipating will be in downtown for the RNC. So, we will utilize officers and deputies and support from anywhere that we can get it. So, the National Guard will play a role, it just will be a fairly minor role and will be on the perimeter of the event. Itâs very important to us, that our officers that we have trained, who are intimately knowledgeable about downtown and have a vested interest in this event being a success â that they are the ones that are in the center of the daily operations of the RNC.â
Once the 4-day convention is over this summer, many law enforcement agencies will benefit from purchases made by Tampa for security. Lieutenant Scott MacDonald from the St. Petersburg Police Department said the bikes will follow officers home to their respective communities.
âWeâve been practicing community policing for many years in St. Petersburg and a component of that is a bicycle patrol, especially in our downtown area with all the events we have. Weâre quite excited about that and quite excited about having those bicycles and being able to take those back to our community as well.â
Another bid was placed by Volcanic Bikes, but their cost would have been nearly $50,000 higher. The seats that will be used on the patrol bikes were designed by a former Tampa Police officer and saved the agency about $200 a bike. Participants in this weekâs training will receive another refresher course closer to the convention once the bikes have been purchased.