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Tampa ready to begin spending convention security funds on police upgrades

TAMPA — No sooner will the Tampa City Council accept $50 million for security at next year's Republican National Convention than it will begin to spend the money.

Council members are scheduled to vote on receiving the U.S. Department of Justice security grant on Thursday. Then, in their very next item of business, they will consider spending nearly $273,000 of the funds on a new armored SWAT team truck.

Later in the same meeting, they'll consider spending another $1.18 million from the grant to convert the analog video feed from cameras in police helicopters to a state-of-the-art digital downlink.

Police say they would need both upgrades eventually even without the GOP coming to town Aug. 27-30. But officials want both in place before the convention, which could draw an estimated 15,000 protesters.

"It's one of those things where you prepare for the worst and you hope for the best," Tampa Assistant Police Chief Marc Hamlin said Friday.

The city has two armored vehicles now. One is almost 20 years old, the other almost 30. "Both are military surplus," Hamlin said. "We're struggling to keep them going. Parts are hard to come by."

So the city is looking at spending $272,904 on a Lenco BearCat armored SWAT truck. The manufacturer, based in Massachusetts, uses secret proprietary methods to provide protection against assault weapon gunfire at a lighter weight than other vehicles. The BearCat has a turning radius of less than 18 feet, shorter than the length of the vehicle itself.

If the council approves the contract Thursday, Lenco said the vehicle could be delivered by July 12, six weeks ahead of the convention.

How the BearCat might be used at the convention "depends on what happens," Hamlin said, but such vehicles are typically called up to send officers into situations where they might draw fire. Other local agencies have similar vehicles that also are expected to be on hand for the convention.

The video downlink conversion would replace a system the department has used since 1999. It's as obsolete as black-and-white TV, Hamlin said. Agencies in Pinellas and Hillsborough have gone digital, and officials say Tampa needs to convert to be able to coordinate with them.

The new system would be able to stream encrypted, high-definition video to handheld receivers or monitors in police command and hostage negotiation vehicles. The system also would work with a Tampa Fire Rescue heavy rescue vehicle and fireboat.

The contract would go to sole bidder Broadcast Microwave Services of Poway, Calif. Tampa is asking that the company provide on-site technical assistance and support during the convention.

Up to two-thirds of the federal security grant, which was approved by Congress last month, will go toward bringing in, housing and feeding 3,000 or more outside law enforcement officers that the city thinks it will need to work the convention. That's on top of Tampa's nearly 1,000 police officers and Hillsborough's 1,100 sheriff's deputies.

The city also plans to spend up to $2 million installing about 60 surveillance cameras around downtown Tampa for the convention. And city officials say they could have to buy a couple of thousand radios so that officers coming to work the convention from different parts of the state will be on the same communications system as local officers.

Reach Richard Danielson at Danielson@tampabay.com, (813) 226-3403 or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

Tampa ready to begin spending convention security funds on police upgrades 12/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 30, 2011 10:18pm]
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