TALLAHASSEE — With the 2012 Republican National Convention less then a year from its descent on Tampa, state lawmakers on Tuesday got a rundown from law enforcement agencies on security issues surrounding the event.
"The major concern we will face is the issue of civil disobedience," Jim Madden, assistant commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, told the Senate Military Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee.
Madden said he and the rest of the security team want to avoid a repeat of the 2008 GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., where protestors caused millions of dollars in damage to private and public property and more than 800 people were arrested.
"It was a very serious and severe event," he said. "They pretty much lost control of the city."
A better model, he said, is the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, where only seven people were arrested.
"It was a very peaceful, very cooperative event," he said.
The 2012 Republican National Convention, set for Aug. 27-30 at the St. Pete Times Forum, is expected to draw nearly 50,000 delegates, volunteers, journalists, convention staffers and visitors.
More than 4,000 security personnel from various law enforcement agencies will be deployed each day to keep crowds under control, including protestors, which could number as high as 300,000, Madden said.
Some will be people "peacefully demonstrating and exercising their First Amendment rights. Those are not the people we are concerned about."
A larger issue are "radical organized" groups, such as anarchists, and the threat of terrorists using protestors to wreak havoc. A simple Google search of the term "black block," he said, will turn up YouTube videos that offer a glimpse of aggressive demonstrators.
"Their sole purpose is to be disruptive and cause as much damage and injury in the venues as they can, primarily targeting financial institutions and government buildings," Madden said, adding that anarchists played a major part in the "mass chaos" at the 2008 GOP convention.
Considered a "national special security event," the convention is eligible for federal funding to cover security costs. Convention host cities in the past have received $50 million from the federal government. The Tampa host committee has asked Congress for $55 million. So far, only $4 million has been appropriated.
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, pledged that state lawmakers would do all they can to make sure Congress dedicates adequate security funding to the event.
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he wants to make sure law enforcement officials have all the resources they need to keep the event safe. But he couldn't resist pointing out the hypocrisy of fellow Republicans who reject federal money for other purposes.
"It's just interesting we won't take money for high-speed rail, we won't take money for our seniors to keep them home instead of in nursing homes," he said, "but we're going to ask the federal government to write a check for the Republican convention."
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.