(MintPress) – In light of the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa, Fla. at the end of August, a push for increased security measures have been in the planning stages for months. The city has pushed for designated protest areas, spending nearly $1 million on military-style protective gear, all while the governor has scoffed at a ban on guns during the convention. The convention has created big potential for security firms that provide private officers and training while stoking fear in area residents that paints a negative depiction of protests of past conventions.
But a new set of eyes have been solicited by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as it relates to reporting potential security issues. Earlier this week, truck drivers at Hillsborough County’s Waste Management facility were briefed by the FBI and trained to look for suspicious activity when the convention is in town.
The drivers are prime candidates for the FBI, as they often start their routes before the average person is out of bed. And they cover a broad area as well: The company services residential areas as well as commercial waste removal in and around the Tampa Bay area. Waste Management spokeswoman Amy Boyson said the drivers were encouraged to report anything abnormal without putting themselves in danger.
“They learned about what to do while they’re out on their routes,” Boyson said. “They’ll be extra eyes and ears in the community. They learned how to report suspicious activity if they see it, and then what not to do – what not to get involved in.”
The push for security
The city of Tampa and Florida Gov. Rick Scott have not held anything back when it comes to preparing the city for what some mailers are calling “mayhem.” In April, a Lutz, Florida security installation company sent letters to 5,000 Tampa businesses urging them to take appropriate measures to ensure their business is not impacted by demonstrators, suggesting riots are a sure-fire happening.
“The RNC is coming. … Is your security ready for it?” the letters read. “At the 2004 RNC there were 1,800 arrests, in 2008 there were 800 arrests. What kind of mayhem will Tampa see in 2012?”
Tampa police have speculated that of the estimated 50,000 visitors to the Tampa area August 27-30, around 15,000 of them will be protesters. As a result, one Fort Lauderdale company is looking to cash in on the event by offering courses to train people to become licensed bodyguards. ASI Consultants & Associates has a partnership that charges $499 to receive as many as six certifications that would teach people how to cover and evacuate dignitaries, locate “safe havens” during potential shootouts and use a Taser.
“With the eyes of the world focused on the city of Tampa, security for the city public officials and political dignitaries will be a top priority,” the company’s online ad read. “Therefore professionally trained and licensed bodyguards will be a necessity for this event.”
In May, the Tampa City Council also voted to beef up its security measures when it allotted $829,000 for tactical gear, such as gas masks, communications headsets and shirts that differentiate local and out-of-town officers working the convention. The money is taken out of a $50 million convention security grant given to Tampa by the federal government. Tampa has contracted much of its security measures with Maryland supplier Safeware Inc., which had a previous order from Tampa for $1.9 million in body armor, helmets and shields, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
In early May, the Tampa City Council also voted to restrict where protesters could demonstrate within the city by created “protest zones.” Tampa City Attorney James Shimberg Jr. said the measure was necessary to keep visitors and residents safe. Police have said they will use discretion when decided whether or not to arrest someone protesting outside of the designated zone.
The ordinance has been met with outcry and claims of First Amendment violations. The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) said the ordinance was unconstitutional and an unnecessary expense for the city to implement.
“You would think, given all the disastrous outcomes of past conventions, that Tampa would try to do something differently,” NLG Executive Director Heidi Boghosian wrote in a statement. “Instead, the city is on course to recreate the worst abuses, which will not only hurt protesters and Tampa residents, but could ultimately scar the city’s reputation and drain its pocketbook.”
The organization denounced what it called “police overreaction” as a means to ensure safety. The guild said it will challenge the City of Tampa on its restriction and will represent protesters who come forward with complaints over how the city treated demonstrators. NLG is also currently representing protesters who participated in the May NATO demonstrations in Chicago and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has hosted webinars telling protesters what to do if they are arrested and suggested that they act peacefully. The group urged protesters not to respond with civil disobedience against the protest zones, saying charges of that behavior could slow down a future lawsuit against the City of Tampa for its free speech restrictions.
“We want people to be able to exercise their rights, know what their rights are, but also to know what the parameters are, as determined by the ordinance—good, bad or indifferent,” ACLU representative Joyce Hamilton-Henry told a Tampa Fox News affiliate.
As Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law was put under a microscope after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the city council has made repeated attempts to implement a gun ban in the city during the RNC. The council has been met with resistance from Gov. Scott, who said you cannot ban people who have the appropriate weapons permit from carrying their guns. Scott also pointed to the Second Amendment and said the council was overreaching with its power.
Already banned from areas around the RNC are weapons such as clubs, slingshots and brass knuckles, as well as items that could conceivably be used as a weapon – crowbars, glass bottles and water pistols.
“You are now requesting that citizens be disarmed in all of downtown Tampa, including in areas across the river, and distant, from the convention center and Secret Service safe zone,” Scott wrote to the council.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said a potentially hostile event such as the RNC would meet the “spirit of exemptions” in Florida’s Conceal and Carry law.
“An event like the RNC may not have been contemplated at the time these statutes were enacted,” Buckhorn told Scott.
The city has also branched out its rules to bars, ordering them to close at 3 a.m., an hour early from their traditional time. Area parks will also be off limits at 3 a.m. Those against the micro-measures say the rules are petty and unnecessary.
“In a free society, we should foster good behavior, not control it,” said protester Amos Miers.