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Police won't ignore regular duties during the RNC, officials say

TAMPA — Law enforcement will saturate downtown Tampa during the Republican National Convention. But don't worry, Westchase, Lutz and Lithia — the suburbs won't be forgotten, authorities say.

Even as Tampa pulls about 3,000 officers from across the state to help with RNC duties, Hillsborough's law enforcement agencies are allocating their own to nonconvention-related work.

Every patrol zone in the county will be staffed as usual. Schools will have resource officers, and though the number of detectives will be scaled down a bit, each agency will still have investigators for non-RNC crimes.

"We don't want to come back to dirty dishes in the sink," said Tampa police Assistant Chief John Newman, who devised his agency's nonconvention staffing plan.

Authorities are laying out RNC plans much like they did for the 2009 Super Bowl, Newman said. First, they figure what their district offices need. Then, they send everyone else downtown. Special exceptions are given for those with unique skills, such as those on the RNC bicycle squad.

Hillsborough is allocating about 45 percent of its deputies for convention security. Tampa is dedicating about 60 percent of its officers.

The secret to doing more with less? No days off.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has banned August vacations, and everyone will work seven days straight during convention week.

That will result in a substantial staffing increase, considering between 10 percent and 20 percent of the approximately 2,200 deputies at the agency are off at any given time, said sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon.

And it's especially important in rural areas, he said, where the deputy-to-citizen ratio is already low.

Tampa has about 2.8 police officers for each 1,000 residents. The Sheriff's Office has about 1.5, according to state data.

In Tampa, police officers can't take time off during a two-week period surrounding the RNC (Aug. 19 through Sept. 1).

They'll all work between seven and 10 days straight during convention week.

Each agency's overtime costs will be reimbursed from the $50 million Tampa is receiving for the RNC, even though it's an indirect convention cost.

"It's considered backfilling the positions of those who are going to the city," said Hillsborough sheriff's Col. Ed Duncan, who's leading his agency's RNC planning.

Each agency plans to suspend special events and recruitment. Officers won't be training. No one is planning any stings or major operations.

They'll still encourage their patrol officers to initiate calls — to look for crime and be proactive, Newman said.

Both agencies want criminals to know that law enforcement's back won't be turned, even as the nation's focus shifts downtown. Crime reduction is a priority, they say.

In Hillsborough, most detectives — including every homicide detective — will be left alone, Duncan said.

"Burglary is a very big deal to the public," he said. "It's very important to us that, although this is a major event, we still have a commitment to our community."

The Sheriff's Office also plans to call in reserve deputies — some of whom are authorized to make arrests — to help in the suburbs.

However, none of the approximately 3,000 officers coming in to Tampa for temporary convention duty will staff regular positions in either the county or city. They will solely be used for RNC security, authorities say.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Police won't ignore regular duties during the RNC, officials say 05/05/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 5, 2012 10:18pm]
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