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Tampa police, ACLU team up on tips for RNC protesters

TAMPA — Check out this bit of advice that will be handed to protesters during the Republican National Convention:

"If detained, ask what crime you are suspected of. You may remind officers that taking photos is a right and does not constitute suspicion."

No surprise, the tip comes from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Perhaps less predictable is who printed it: the Tampa Police Department.

Police included five such tips on a guide they plan to hand out to RNC demonstrators.

The guide has maps of the official parade route, the designated protest areas, and places to use the restroom, cool off, get water and seek first aid.

The guide lists banned items, gives advice on avoiding heat-related illnesses, and provides phone numbers for the RNC call center, the Hillsborough County jail and the ACLU's hotline.

With input from the ACLU, it also includes "tips to stay safe." They include:

• "Always obey an officer's lawful orders. You may refuse to answer questions, but you must identify yourself."

• "Always remain polite. Never resist."

• "Ask, 'Am I free to go?' "

Tampa officials say the guide is part of an effort to reach out to groups ranging from downtown businesses to out-of-town protesters.

"We are serious about making sure that everyone's rights are protected," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said last week.

Things like the guide are a step in the right direction, said Sam Rosenfeld, chairman of the Densus Group, a risk and security consulting firm whose specialties include planning for and managing large protests.

"I'm all for that level of engagement," he said. He said his firm has briefed officials in Tampa and Charlotte, N.C., the site of the Democratic National Convention, on creating conditions for managing protests effectively.

But on a blog last week, Rosenfeld also said he saw "worrying signs that the city of Tampa doesn't understand the threat or how to manage it effectively."

One of those signs was a comment from City Attorney James Shimberg Jr. about the small number of groups that have signed up for turns on the parade route and demonstrations in city parks.

While Tampa officials have consistently said they could see up to 15,000 protesters, Rosenfeld cited an Associated Press report from last month that quoted Shimberg saying he wasn't sure if the small number of sign-ups means protesters don't want to go where the city wants them to go or if they're just not coming.

"The protesters are coming," Rosenfeld wrote on SecurityDebrief.com. "They're coming in strength."

But he said that because protesters didn't respect the city's rules and plans for the RNC, they decided months ago not to participate.

Also, Rosenfeld said that "internal politics" kept the anarchists' most experienced "A-team" away from the relatively peaceful NATO summit in Chicago this spring. He predicted "the anarchists coming to Tampa will be better organized."

Like Tampa police, Rosenfeld said most protesters are law-abiding and simply want their voices heard, while only a few are troublemakers. He cited figures showing that generally 1 percent to 5 percent of protesters are ready to initiate confrontations with police and an additional 15 percent will participate in a confrontation if they see a small risk of repercussions. He questioned how well Tampa police understand anarchists and their tactics.

Also worrisome, Rosenfeld said, is how the anarchist movement is evolving.

"There is a new trend of willingness to actually fight the police and de-arrest individuals, something simply not in evidence four years ago," he wrote on the blog.

Rosenfeld said Tampa police have a reputation for professionalism. Still, one thing on the city's guide gave him pause. It is a statement — not in the section contributed by the ACLU — that "demonstrators may not intentionally disrupt the public's ability to freely move about on the sidewalks" or likewise obstruct traffic in the street.

Faced with a sit-down protest, he said, sometimes it's better to be flexible and make a detour around it. He said it would concern him if police used the statement as a pretext for arresting protesters at will.

When protesters opt out of the mechanisms that the city has put in place, Rosenfeld said, the effective response is to engage with protest groups, especially the moderates, and to negotiate agreements in advance that recognize the goals and needs of both the marchers and the police.

During a town hall meeting last week, police Chief Jane Castor said officers are pursuing exactly that kind of engagement.

"We have a parade route, but we know there will be spontaneous events," she said. "We're communicating with those individuals as well so that we can develop a route and a process that will be advantageous to everyone."

Economists skeptical of convention's impact

On Friday, researchers at the financial and professional services firm Jones Lang LaSalle released a report projecting the RNC would have a local economic impact of at least $153.6 million.

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal weighed in with some dissenting voices.

"Playing the role of party poopers are several economic observers who have gone back to study tax receipts and other signs of extra activity from earlier, similar mega-events, and generally haven't found much to crow over," reported Carl Bialik, who writes the Numbers Guy column for the Journal.

Bialik continues: " 'Prospective promises are not likely to materialize,' said Robert A. Baade, an economist at Lake Forest College in Illinois who has studied the impact of sporting events and political conventions.

"Pointing out that organizers and sponsors often produce the widely reported estimates, Prof. Baade added, 'You do have to ask yourself, 'Who's providing the analysis, for whom, at what price?' "

Bialik also quotes a local scholar who has scrutinized economic impact claims, much to the annoyance of the people who promote them:

"Philip Porter, an economist at the University of South Florida in Tampa who has studied the economics of big events, said the analysis didn't include displaced locals — including him.

" 'My consulting office, my wife's downtown office and the offices of several of our friends will have to be closed,' Prof. Porter said, adding, 'These are predictions. One only needs to look back on the past to note that such predictions are made every time but have yet to materialize.'

"A study by Prof. Baade and colleagues agrees that these gains rarely show up. The researchers studied 18 national political conventions between 1972 and 2004, and found no statistically significant impact on personal income or local employment when comparing host cities with control cities that didn't host events."

Tampa police, ACLU team up on tips for RNC protesters 08/18/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 18, 2012 8:31pm]
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