TAMPA — With the Republican National Convention four months away, restaurants are marketing menus and hotels are advertising amenities. But private security firms, lawyers and bodyguard training companies are relying on something else to sell their services.
"The RNC is coming. … Is your security ready for it?" says a mailer to 5,000 downtown businesses from a Lutz security installation company. "At the 2004 RNC there were 1,800 arrests, in 2008 there were 800 arrests. What kind of mayhem will Tampa see in 2012?"
A former Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy is offering "armed executive personal security and transportation" on his investigations and security consulting company website, while a Tampa insurance claims adjustor has been circulating a news release explaining how he thinks companies should protect themselves in case mayhem manifests.
"People tend not to think about security until it's too late," said Craig Sheridan, president of CMS Technologies, which sent out the mailers. "I'm not trying to use it as a scare tactic as much as I am trying to get it on people's brain. ... I think everybody needs security. It's better to protect yourself before something happens."
Of the 50,000 visitors expected in Tampa for the RNC, police have said about 15,000 will be protesters.
Businesses that routinely hire off-duty law enforcement officers will be out of luck during the convention when all local officers will be on duty, Tampa police Capt. Brett Bartlett told members of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Tampa Bay recently.
Last week, Tampa police had 116 off-duty jobs — which can include special events, escorts and construction site traffic control — a total number that police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said varies greatly week to week.
But thus far, downtown businesses aren't scrambling to install more security cameras or hire bodyguards.
Sheridan's company, which customizes security systems to fit homes and businesses, has done about 25 free consultations since sending out a first wave of mailers but has landed just two installation jobs.
No one has asked for a bodyguard yet from Reder Investigations and Security Consulting LLC, which is advertising armed escort services for the RNC.
"I'm a small two-person agency," retired Hillsborough Sheriff's Capt. Rod Reder said, "so if it doesn't take off I don't have 20 starving employees."
Dick Tutwiler, a Tampa loss consultant and public insurance adjustor for more than 29 years, hasn't received a slew of calls either after putting out a news release warning downtown businesses to check the fine print in their insurance policies before the RNC. But he said he's not trying to gain more business — his job focuses on losses after disasters. He just wants to add his expertise to the public discourse over security preparations.
"All I'm saying is take a look at your insurance coverage just like a hurricane in case it happens," Tutwiler said. "Am I expecting to get any business out of it? I hope not. I really hope not."
If he hopes to gain anything from the self-promotion, he said, it's recognition that he's a knowledgeable insurance adjustor when or if disaster occurs.
One business that reports to be drawing plenty of interest riding the coattails of the GOP convention is ASI Consultants & Associates. The Fort Lauderdale bodyguard training firm has been advertising three-day sessions to professionally train and license bodyguards with as many as six certifications and prerequisites to get RNC-related security jobs.
"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," says ASI's online ad. "Therefore professionally trained and licensed bodyguards will be a necessity for this event."
The firm partnered with Tampa's S1 Investigative & Protection Services to hold a training session in Tampa last weekend for nine people. Each participant paid $499 to learn how to get clients in and out of cars quickly and safely, cover and evacuate dignitaries, locate "safe havens" during shootouts, drive in motorcade fashion and use a Taser.
The session was in such demand that ASI owner Bill Ferrell, who served 27 years with the Florida Highway Patrol and other agencies, had his Web page designer remove the online listing for the event once the small-class training session was full.
"I've gotten probably about 40 phone calls," Ferrell said. "We actually had that class filled within the three weeks of advertising it, and we actually turned down some people."
The next session is scheduled for late May in Fort Lauderdale for 12 students. Ferrell is still accepting applicants.
While some of ASI's newly minted bodyguards are being trained to prevent mayhem at the RNC, local lawyers are preparing for trouble — and letting everyone know they'll be available to handle the aftermath.
"Considering the probable crowds, protests and road blocks, the situation on the ground downtown will inevitably create the perfect storm for increased car accidents and pedestrian accidents with possible injuries and the need for emergency medical attention," reads the website for Tampa law firm Winters & Yonkers. "Anyone — whether from the Tampa area or from out of town — involved in a motor vehicle accident with property damage or personal injury should discuss their legal rights and possible remedies with an experienced local Tampa-area car crash attorney."
Justin George can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3368.