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Obama and Gasparilla in the same week? Tampa police have a plan

Tampa police Capt. Cherie Adkins, bottom left, who leads a unit that develops public safety plans for the city, attends a meeting Wednesday to coordinate resources for Gasparilla.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Tampa police Capt. Cherie Adkins, bottom left, who leads a unit that develops public safety plans for the city, attends a meeting Wednesday to coordinate resources for Gasparilla.

TAMPA — Logistics are Tampa police Capt. Cherie Adkins' specialty.

Parades, hurricanes, swine flu, you name it, Adkins and her four-person team are planning for it.

Gasparilla? Check.

Super Bowl? Check.

President Barack Obama and Gasparilla in the same week?

Check … and … (even though they're not getting much sleep this week as a result) … check!

"My planners are amazing," said Adkins, who heads the agency's special incident management unit.

Tampa police typically start mapping out strategies to deal with the city's annual pirate invasion a year out.

To ward off overtime costs, none of the agency's almost 1,000 law enforcement officers are allowed to take any vacation in the two weeks leading up to the fete.

Last year, Gasparilla coincided with Super Bowl. That was hectic.

This year was shaping up to be Gasparilla as usual. Just the typical pirates, traffic and drunks.

"And then the president came," Adkins said with a laugh.

Sleep has been difficult since the White House called Friday.

Adkins can't talk about the preparations required for today's presidential visit, other than the fact that it takes a lot of bodies and a lot of meetings with a lot of other agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security.

Some of the planning team, composed of Sgt. Jarrett Seal, Officers Paul Smalley and Talesha Vaughan-Buchanan and retired Officer Tom Beury, have been pulling 4 a.m.-to-9 p.m. shifts this week.

Luckily, Adkins says, there are some similarities between planning for a presidential procession and Gasparilla.

Officers have to think about traffic flow, about every intersection, every cone, every barricade, when those barricades need to be there and when they need to be removed.

They have to envision the what-ifs. What if it storms and hordes of people scramble for shelter and cars at once? (That was a topic of discussion Wednesday as meteorologists predicted rain this weekend.) What if a threatening scenario arises — human, environmental or otherwise?

Software called E-Sponder helps officers troubleshoot such scenarios, by helping them identify the city's vulnerable spots.

The biggest challenge of the week, Adkins said: "Just the enormity of it. There's so many working cops and parts. If one starts to falter, it dominos."

Rick Cochran, vice president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, said the upshot of the planning by Adkins and her team is simplicity for the boots on the ground, even during busy times like this.

"For the average police officer," he said, "they're told where to be and they just show up there … I don't think there's an added stress."

Organizers won't reveal how many law enforcement officers will be working today during Obama's and Vice President Joe Biden's visit.

But come Gasparilla, the numbers will top 1,000, with 275 patrolling neighborhoods.

That includes everyone.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at [email protected] and (813) 226-3383.

Obama and Gasparilla in the same week? Tampa police have a plan 01/27/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010 8:32am]
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