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.
“When you have that much, when you have traffic – whether it be pedestrian traffic or vehicle traffic – it’s easier to get officers around on bikes. We’re hoping that by officers on bikes they’re a lot more approachable. We’re 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, we’re hoping that people feel a lot more comfortable approaching officers.”
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 Sheriff’s captain, said that is something officers can do to ensure their own safety.
“Often times the bike can be used as – no different than a car. If there is a problem, they’ll put the bike between themselves and the problem. Those kind of things. When you’re working with other agencies collectively – you’re working in a group, in a large crowd – you always have safety concerns about staying together and being mindful of the tempo of the crowd. So, it’s not all that unlike what they do everyday.”
But in some instances the bikes weren’t 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 Police’s Dugan didn’t answer directly.
“The officer’s going to be trained in all different types of aspects. It’s hard to say exactly how they will be used. It’s just going to depend on the situation that these officers are put in.”
The 200 bicycles will be purchased from Safariland – 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.
“I 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, we’re 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 that’s why it requires such training and it requires a more durable bike.”
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 city’s existing training budget. It’s something Hillsborough County Sheriff’s captain Kyle Cockream said is only one component of security plans.
“This is going to be a huge undertaking for our greater Tampa Bay area so we’ve reached out to our partners across central Florida – actually throughout the entire state of Florida – many of which are going to be sending assets. Not all of them are going to be designated as the bicycle response team. We’re going to be utilizing people across the board to do a lot of different things. Luckily – or not unluckily, whichever you prefer to use – over the years, the agencies that are here today, we’ve worked very hard to form partnerships.”
And one of those partnerships will be with the United State’s National Guard. Tampa Police Department’s public information officer, Laura McElroy, said guardsmen will be used in far fewer numbers than some people have speculated.
“We only have 1,000 Tampa police officers. We need somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 for the size of the crowd that we’re 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. It’s 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 – that they are the ones that are in the center of the daily operations of the RNC.”
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.
“We’ve 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. We’re quite excited about that and quite excited about having those bicycles and being able to take those back to our community as well.”
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 week’s training will receive another refresher course closer to the convention once the bikes have been purchased.