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Tampa City Council approves purchase of surveillance cameras for GOP convention

TAMPA — Dozens of new surveillance cameras are coming to downtown Tampa for the Republican National Convention, but what the city does with them afterward remains unsettled.

The City Council on Thursday voted to spend $2 million on a network of about 60 surveillance cameras around the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the site of the Aug. 27-30 convention.

But council members also scheduled a discussion for Sept. 20 on whether to pass an ordinance controlling how the cameras could be used after the convention leaves town.

The public should have a chance to comment, council member Mary Mulhern said, especially since the city could later use the cameras for things that residents might not support.

"We're opening the door here, and I want to see some limits on it," she said.

Mulhern cast the lone vote against the purchase, saying it had been walked onto the agenda late Wednesday afternoon, depriving her of the chance to do her homework on it.

The city will use funds from a $50 million federal convention security grant to buy them.

The technology will allow police to monitor traffic and crowds, dispatching officers quickly if problems arise. They also will preserve visual evidence of crimes that can be used later in prosecutions or civil cases that arise from the convention.

The contractor, Aware Digital, must deliver a working system by July 1 or pay a $500 penalty for every day it misses the deadline.

While council members expressed no problem with buying the cameras for the convention, several were uneasy with the idea that the city could move them around Tampa afterward.

Council member Frank Reddick said some of his East Tampa constituents don't want the cameras in their neighborhoods.

"I don't want to see more cameras popping up," Reddick said, noting that drivers already are watched by red-light cameras at busy intersections. "We do not live in the type of society where we have to be spied upon everywhere we go."

Police Chief Jane Castor did not object to having a public discussion about what to do with the cameras after the convention.

"I have no issue on the community weighing in on where these cameras are going to be used," she told council members.

But Castor did say the council needed to approve the purchase Thursday. The vendor needs time to install the cameras, set up a wireless mesh network, data storage and video management system, test everything, work out the bugs and train police.

The city wanted to get started sooner, but had to rebid the project. Its first request for proposals last fall attracted only two bids, both in the $5 million range, or more than twice what officials thought was reasonable.

"I wish we had more time, but we don't," Castor said.

In addition, while the city originally asked for proposals to either lease or buy a system, neither of the original bidders made a lease offer. That led officials to conclude that they would have no choice but to buy a system.

An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union said he was glad the council wants a full discussion because of the cameras' potential impact on privacy.

"I'm fairly pleased with the result today," said John Dingfelder, a former City Council member who is the ACLU's senior staff attorney for mid-Florida.

Aware Digital, whose offices are near Miami, was one of six companies vying for the camera contract in the second round of bidding.

Its track record includes projects that brought more than 225 cameras each to the South Florida cities of Doral and Hallandale Beach, as well as camera installations at Super Bowl XLIV in Miami and several South Florida racetracks and casinos.

But another bidder, Avrio RMS Group, based near Washington, D.C., filed a protest against the city's decision. Avrio provided video surveillance at both national political conventions in 2008 and has nearly 70 municipal customers, including Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Fresno, Calif., and Washington, D.C.

Avrio's appeal challenged the city's decision on several grounds, some technical and some blacked out of a record released by police because they contained security information. Among other things, Avrio contended that, to its knowledge, Aware Digital "has never managed or coordinated the installation of a wireless video system as complex and detailed as the one called for" in Tampa.

City officials ruled against Avrio's protest, saying that the technical grounds did not create a basis for changing the decision and that Aware Digital submitted a "responsible and responsive proposal."

In a separate purchase approved unanimously Thursday, Tampa is buying $1.9 million worth of protective gear, such as helmets and body armor, from Safeware Inc. of Landover, Md.

Police say the equipment will protect officers assigned to crowd management during the convention, which is expected to draw up to 15,000 protesters.

Council action

Tampa City Council members Thursday also:

• Approved Tampa's first-ever franchise fees for commercial garbage haulers who pick up in the city. The fees will raise $325,000 this year and $1.3 million annually starting in 2013.

• Were told they did not have the authority to block the nonprofit Trinity Cafe's planned move to a building it bought at N Nebraska and E 17th avenues. For permitting purposes, the city considers the cafe, which serves free lunches to 200 homeless or working poor diners every weekday, to be a restaurant that's allowed on the commercial-general zoned property. Neighbors say it's no restaurant and worry that it will bring transients, litter and crime to the V.M. Ybor neighborhood.

• Were advised to hold off on trying to restrict the sales of synthetic herbal drugs that mimic the effects of marijuana. The Legislature is considering a bill to add 92 compounds to those regulated by the state. If passed, the bill likely would limit or pre-empt city action.

• Scheduled a March 15 vote on a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people and money is not speech. The proposed amendment to end "corporate personhood" is being promoted in response to the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to unlimited corporate and labor spending in federal elections. It has been endorsed by city councils in New York, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., among other places. "I've been wanting to propose this for a while and recently have been getting a lot of requests from emails," said council member Mary Mulhern, who made the motion. The vote was 5-0, with Charlie Miranda and Lisa Montelione absent.

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More council actions

Tampa City Council members on Thursday also:

• Approved Tampa's first-ever franchise fees for commercial garbage haulers who pick up in the city. The fees will raise $325,000 this year and $1.3 million annually starting in 2013.

• Were told they did not have the authority to block the nonprofit Trinity Cafe's planned move to a building it bought at N Nebraska and E 17th avenues. For permitting purposes, the city considers the cafe, which serves free lunches to 200 homeless or working-poor diners every weekday, to be a restaurant that's allowed on the commercial-general zoned property. Neighbors say it's no restaurant and worry that it will bring transients, litter and crime to the V.M. Ybor neighborhood.

• Were advised to hold off on trying to restrict the sales of synthetic herbal drugs that mimic the effects of marijuana. The Legislature is considering a bill to add 92 compounds to those regulated by the state. If passed, the bill likely would limit or pre-empt city action.

• Scheduled a March 15 vote on a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people and money is not speech. The proposed amendment to end "corporate personhood" is being promoted in response to the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court, which opened the door to unlimited corporate and labor spending in federal elections. It has been endorsed by city councils in New York, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., among other places. "I've been wanting to propose this for a while and recently have been getting a lot of requests from emails," said council member Mary Mulhern, who made the motion. The vote was 5-0, with Charlie Miranda and Lisa Montelione absent.

Tampa City Council approves purchase of surveillance cameras for GOP convention 03/01/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 1, 2012 11:45pm]

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