Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tampa Police Chief says public's overall anger keeps her up at night in preparing for RNC

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2012 at 10:40 AM

Jane Castor at Tampa Downtown Partnerships (de)briefing on the RNC
  • Jane Castor at Tampa Downtown Partnership's (de)briefing on the RNC
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor says the overall dissatisfaction about government on both sides of the political aisle is what worries her the most in preparing for the Republican National Convention.

Speaking to over 200 people at the Sheraton Riverwalk Hotel in an event sponsored by the Tampa Downtown Partnership, the chief made that remark while answering a question about the potential for private property of being subject to vandalism by protesters. Castor said it's her intent that there be no destruction of any sort during the week of August 27-30 in Tampa, but of course said she couldn't guarantee that.

"One of the things that keeps me up at night is that we do look at all of these past conventions. But there's one issue — everybody's angry. It's really kind of a nonpartisan thing," as many in the audience giggled. "They'll go from the RNC to the DNC to demonstrate as well."

Castor also said that social media is also a concern. "The ability to communicate instantaneously is something we're also very interested in."

For months if not years since Tampa won the bid to host the convention, city leaders have essentially said: We've got this, because we've hosted four previous Super Bowls. But Chief Castor on Wednesday cut through that rhetoric when she said that in her 28 years on the force, "This is the biggest, largest event I have ever been involved in."

Castor appeared along with City Attorney Jim Shimberg and Matt Becker, the COO of the Host Committee for the convention in an hour-long appearance.

The chief said perhaps the biggest issue for protesters and their interactions with police will be the heat. Joking that people coming to Tampa from Maine will "spontaneously combust," Castor said concern about the weather was the original reason the city had advocated for a one-hour limit on groups marching along the official parade route. But the limit was met with resentment not only from protesters but also some city council members when it was initially proposed in Bob Buckhorn's "Clean Zone" ordinance (since amended to the Event Zone, with the parade times now extended to 90 minutes).

Saying communications is the "key component for us," Castor said that her department is breaking down the downtown area into blocks to which she will assign block captains who will be in regular contact with the top brass. Saying she was in no way critical of the local media, the chief said she wants to be able to insure that the TPD get its side out on a particular issue, referring to what she said was fake blood that some protesters in Chicago were using during last week's NATO summit.

Most of the questions that Castor and Shimberg received from members of the downtown business community reflected anxieties about how the convention would affect commerce for them during that last week in August.

Among the issues not resolved is whether the Selmon Expressway will be shut down near the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the site of the convention. Neither Castor nor Shimberg could shed any light on that, which disappointed Robert Reardon, who is director of operations and maintenance with the Expressway Authority.

He told the audience that the Expressway staff feels they're in limbo right now, waiting for the Secret Service to tell them officially what will happen during the Convention. "We have two major construction projects going on in our roadway and we're not sure what our contractor is going to be able to do....we are working with FDOT and contractors to offer a plan, we have reached out to the Secret Service, and pretty much not gotten a response...we need the answers."

Shimberg replied, "We're working with your staff."

Reardon replied, "I am the staff," eliciting a large roar from the audience. "With your attorneys," Tampa's city attorney responded.

Matt Becker with the Tampa Bay Host Committee affirmed what other officials involved with the convention have previously stated — that is, that most of the activities around the convention are taking place at night. That's why Chief Castor said that Ybor City has been included in the "Event Zone," the 2.6-mile region of downtown where a specific set of regulations has been created for protesters. Castor said that with Ybor being the premiere place for nightlife in Tampa, there could be a lot of activity there, though she had received no indication of any protests or traffic that would impact the district at this time.

City Attorney Jim Shimberg said that the city will hold a lottery on June 11 for those who have signed up for a special event permit to protest in a city park or march through the city.

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