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Tampa residents, business owners question officials in aftermath of RNC

TAMPA — A week after a mild Republican National Convention, Hillsborough's top law enforcement officials faced pointed questions about the intense security downtown.

Many at Friday's Tiger Bay lunch were impressed that authorities only arrested two protesters. But was it necessary to have nearly 2,000 officers downtown? Did Tampa really need all those fences?

"Should it be something that turns a whole segment of the community into a police state," asked Harbour Island resident Carl Zielonka. "I couldn't even walk to Publix from my house."

These are the questions Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee and Tampa police Chief Jane Castor have heard this past week, particularly after reports on Charlotte's Democratic National Convention reflected a friendlier atmosphere and bustling downtown.

One woman asked outright: "Was it better in Charlotte?"

Castor and Gee say they do not regret having nearly 2,000 officers working downtown. Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober said he does not regret closing the courthouse.

"You can't be overprepared because if you are underprepared and something happens, there will be no forgiveness," Gee said.

Tampa's RNC law enforcement plan was based on past conventions and intelligence that about 15,000 protesters — a small segment of them violent — would be coming to Tampa. Whether it was Tropical Storm Isaac or other factors, that did not happen.

"I always said we'd have the perfect plan the Friday after the convention," Castor said.

But when asked to name one thing they would change if Tampa were to host another political convention, neither Gee nor Castor said fewer officers.

Castor said she'd like to have more officers on bicycles. "They were incredibly effective," she said.

And when it came to comparisons with Charlotte, Tampa's law enforcement passed blame.

Castor said Charlotte's security plan was similar to Tampa's. The difference, she said, was that the RNC had more catered, closed events and hotels either inside the secure zone or far away, which sent delegates straight to their buses.

In Charlotte, people walked around more and the public could attend a festival Monday.

Tampa did not have any public festivals, something Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, in hindsight, would have been nice.

Tampa attorney and Tiger Bay member Gary Dolgin said he found the fencing and security to be a hassle. He couldn't easily get clients to his downtown building, and his normal jogging path from the Harbour Island Athletic Club down Bayshore Boulevard was blocked.

"I was so relieved when this was over," he said during the lunch. "I felt like I had my city and my life back."

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

Tampa residents, business owners question officials in aftermath of RNC 09/07/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 8, 2012 3:45pm]
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