Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Public safety

Tampa residents get answers about GOP convention's impact

RIVERVIEW — Tampa police Chief Jane Castor may be the most-demanded speaker at Tampa Bay events these days. That's because thousands of residents all share the same question: How will the Republican National Convention affect me?

On Saturday, Castor spoke to Hillsborough County's League of Women Voters — and before anyone could ask, she broached the most popular topic: traffic.

The city hasn't decided how it'll route vehicles yet, she said. "But we don't plan to shut down downtown."

Those who can work remotely that week should do it, she said — or leave their downtown offices early. The main events at the Tampa Convention Center start about 4 p.m. each day.

Organizers are expecting about 50,000 people to descend on Tampa for the RNC from Aug. 27 to Aug. 30 — and about 15,000 demonstrators.

Inside the convention, the focus will be politics. But outside, Castor said, "It's all about Tampa." She doesn't want locals to feel like they can't go downtown — but she wants them to be prepared. So she welcomed questions Saturday during an event at the Regent community center in Riverview.

Will businesses put plywood over their windows? one woman asked.

No, Castor said, but they'll be able to fence off their buildings. And building managers will know what's going on near them as it happens, she said.

Castor said the city is working to launch a software program that downtown building managers will be able to access.

It will update each manager on traffic and other issues, and it can be as broad or restricted as each manager wishes. For example, a manager could choose to monitor the block of her building — or the entire downtown area, Castor said.

Another league member wanted to know how police plan to remove dangerous protesters without inciting the crowd.

"If we see an individual that starts to disrupt or break the law, they will be removed quickly," Castor answered. "We are confident that we will be able to do that in a safe manner. But I won't say it's going to be easy."

How will people get to Tampa General Hospital? another asked.

Castor said she doesn't think that will be a problem. She anticipates that emergency vehicles will be able to get to TGH through downtown and Bayshore Boulevard, and if problems arise, authorities will be able to broadcast alternate routes.

She also defended the city's proposed "public viewing area" near the Republican National Convention, where protesters could demonstrate — but under Tampa's rules.

She said the area will be close enough for protesters to be "seen and heard" by those at the convention center.

"That's a requirement," she said.

She also defended the proposed secure "Clean Zone," an area that covers much of downtown, Ybor City, the Channel District, Harbour Island and Davis Islands.

Inside the zone, the city would ban items that could be used as weapons, such as knives, axes, Mace, clubs, padlocks, chains and glass bottles. The city would also require permits for gatherings of 50 or more people at city parks.

Those proposals go to the Tampa City Council on Thursday for the first of two votes.

Several attendees at Saturday's meeting said they were interested in making sure the city encourages peaceful demonstrations.

"The league is a big proponent of civil discourse — listening to those who have different views and opinions," said the group's president, Mickey Castor. "But not violently, and not oppressively."

Mickey Castor, who's not related to the police chief, lives near the University of South Florida and was initially planning to stay far from downtown the week of the convention.

But after listening to Castor, she said she felt comforted by the chief's statements that authorities at local, state and federal levels have been working together on security issues for more than a year.

"It sounds like a great event for the city," she said. "I might stick my toe in."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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