ST. PETERSBURG — The president has a security detail, and so does Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. But it may come as a surprise that Miss America does. Miss Florida, too.
Bill Doniel, a longtime spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department, is a special projects manager who coordinates efforts on behalf of pageant officials for Miss Florida Kylie Williams. And because Miss America Kirsten Haglund is in town at the invitation of the state pageant, and is grand marshal of the Honda Grand Prix, he'll lead efforts to make sure her stay in the Tampa Bay area this weekend is pleasant.
Doniel would not discuss specifics of security preparations, but he did talk with Neighborhood Times about potential threats to his charges.
Question: People want to hurt Miss America?
Answer: "There are people who will stalk people of that nature. When you're out in the general public, and it's announced that Miss Florida or Miss America is in town, there may be somebody who has a fixation. Any time people are exposed to large crowds, that's where the concern arises. In a large crowd, like we will have Sunday, here's the person that's got the crown on, the sash — we know people gravitate to that person. All of a sudden you've got people pushing and shoving. Everybody wants to get a picture. Everybody's got a camera in their cell phone today. It becomes a concern to the person in the spotlight. Once that pack mentality starts, then sometimes it's hard to control that. You're always looking to avoid that situation."
Q: Will there be private security at the Grand Prix?
A: "Sentry Security Services, which does the private security for the PGA tournament at Innisbrook, the Buccaneers and the Rays. They're the security people in the yellow shirts. They'll make sure you go in the right gates and have the right tickets. And you do have a lot of volunteers using their eyes and ears to bring information back to police officers, and plainclothes officers looking for suspicious behavior."
Q: What are other things to look for?
A: "We live in a world of stalkers. There are people who just want to embarrass that individual, a person who's going to run out on the course. While she's in our city we want (Miss America) to have a good time, to have a good experience. At the same time, we know there are those who would go out of their way to embarrass her, or the city or the Grand Prix."
Q: What strategies do the various law enforcement agencies have for an event such as the Grand Prix?
A: "It all comes back to planning. There are procedures for moving people from Point A to Point B. We all work together very closely. We're all there to help each other. Prior planning is a must if you're going to work closely with the sheriff's department, the FBI, the FDLE, St. Pete and its operation. We coordinate with local law enforcement where (Miss America) is going. We're looking for the unexpected.