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No drones after all at Tampa's Republican National Convention

TAMPA — No drones will buzz over next year's Republican National Convention after all.

After seeking bids for a possible package of security cameras that included specs for two "unmanned aerial vehicles," police this week dropped the idea.

"They cut the drones," Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Friday.

"That's great news," said John Dingfelder, a former Tampa City Council member who is the American Civil Liberties Union's senior staff attorney for mid Florida.

"I think there were some significant privacy concerns associated with the use of drones over America's back yards," he said, "and in many cases our downtowns are now our back yards."

The city's request for surveillance cameras to be deployed at the convention originally included 238 cameras of various types. But that package is expected to evolve and may well shrink as convention organizers determine their needs, resources and the event's security perimeter.

"It's still a work in progress," Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin said. "We're not even close to pinning this down yet."

At first, the city asked for proposals for two drones that could hover for 20 minutes, fly in 20-knot winds and carry cameras with zoom lenses or thermal imaging capabilities.

Looking at the drones was intriguing because of the possibility that in the long run they might offer the police some of the benefits of a helicopter, an extremely useful but also very expensive law enforcement tool.

But police eliminated the drones from their convention shopping list because of the potential cost, the fact that they had limited flight time and the possibility that they might run into problems with federal aviation regulations.

"It just didn't seem to be worthwhile at this point," Hamlin said.

Among other things, city officials also asked for proposals for 164 cameras able to read a number that is 3 inches high at 300 meters during the day; 20 helmet cameras with 2 1/2 hours of recording time to document crowd disturbances; six trailer-mounted mobile cameras on booms that rise 20 feet or more; and six bread-box-sized cameras for covert use around high-risk activities.

With an eye on costs, however, officials are scaling down their expectations for some of these other cameras, too.

For example, instead of cameras that can read license plates across six lanes of traffic, they're asking for models able to scan three. Instead of cameras that can operate in no light, they're looking for cameras that work in very low light. The money to buy or lease the gear is expected to come from a requested $55 million congressional appropriation for convention security.

No drones after all at Tampa's Republican National Convention 10/07/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 8, 2011 12:26am]
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