Thursday, December 14, 2017
News Roundup

Tampa expects a $2M hotel bill for out-of-town police during Republican National Convention

TAMPA — Bringing in 3,000 additional law enforcement officers for the Republican National Convention will require about 1,500 hotel rooms, so the city has been busy making reservations.

A travel agent for the city has booked rooms at dozens of hotels throughout the Tampa Bay area, with negotiated double-occupancy rates ranging from $61 to $329 a night.

Law enforcement-related hotel bills for the convention are expected to run $2 million or more, Tampa Assistant Police Chief Marc Hamlin said.

"It's a time when hotel rooms are at a serious premium, and we have to make these arrangements," Hamlin said.

The city couldn't secure the event without importing additional officers from outside the Tampa Bay area, he said.

The Tampa City Council is scheduled Thursday to consider allocating $878,000 to cover deposits on those rooms. Council member Mary Mulhern, who recently questioned a convention-related purchase of an armored SWAT vehicle, said she's comfortable with the request.

City officials are not identifying which hotels they're using or even what chains they've booked with for the same confidentiality reason they don't give out the home addresses of their officers.

Up to two-thirds of the $50 million in federal funds the city is getting to pay for convention security is expected to be used to pay, house and feed additional officers needed for the convention, scheduled for Aug. 27-30 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Some of the outside officers will be here the whole week, some less than that. Their schedules will depend, among other things, on whether they will need on-site training.

Once they get here, the out-of-town officers and deputies will work a variety of assignments, sometimes in partnership with local personnel: traffic control, security details, marine patrol, and dignitary protection and escort, among other things.

The Tampa Police Department, which has nearly 1,000 officers, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, with 1,100 deputies, will continue to patrol the areas they normally cover, Hamlin said. It wouldn't make sense to bring officers in from outside the area and give them assignments that require a detailed knowledge of the community.

Officials also plan to assign Tampa police and Hillsborough deputies to work the demonstrations outside the convention.

The convention is expected to draw up to 15,000 protesters, with one coalition of organized labor, student radicals and antiwar activists calling on groups nationwide to march on the event's first day. Police expect most demonstrators to be peaceful, but are concerned that a small number of vandals and violent provocateurs will try to disrupt the convention.

Because striking the balance between maintaining order and not over-reacting could present police with a high-stakes challenge, police Chief Jane Castor said she wants officers on the front lines to have a direct, personal stake in how the rest of the world sees their hometown.

"Our intent: Everybody who deals with the protesters will be from the Tampa Bay area," Castor told downtown merchants last week.

"We're not going to have officers that are coming from another area that just don't care. We're going to have people that have a vested interest in making Tampa Bay shine during the RNC."

Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected], (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

The hotel contracts negotiated by the city for out-of-town police are different from those the Republican Party negotiated with local hotels for delegates and other conventioneers.

The convention expects it will need 15,000 rooms each night of the event, so it booked rooms with about 100 hotels from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in 2010. In October, however, a new convention contractor stunned hoteliers with an announcement that they were expected to throw out their existing year-old room contracts with the convention's organizers and sign new agreements with lower rates. The Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association told hotel managers they were under no obligation to budge.

Three months later, discussions with most hotels have been concluded, convention spokesman James Davis said.

Some hotels did lower their rates, he said, though hotel association executive director Bob Morrison said the "great majority" did not. Others signed agreements for larger blocks of rooms. And, Davis said, "We're still working on some."

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