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St. Petersburg to buy security cameras for Republican National Convention

Published Jun. 14, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa's not the only city getting cameras for the Republican National Convention.

St. Petersburg plans to buy a batch of cameras for $270,000 in preparation for events related to the convention, including an Aug. 26 kickoff party that's anticipated to be held at Tropicana Field.

The City Council approved the money during Thursday's meeting, despite misgivings from some that the cameras will be installed downtown rather than in crime-ridden neighborhoods.

"We have problems in other areas," said council member Wengay Newton. "We have open-air drug dealing. We can't get the cameras for that. So we're getting cameras for the RNC, but we've had a drug problem for as long as I remember."

City officials refused to say exactly where the cameras will be placed, citing security concerns. They also wouldn't disclose how many cameras will be purchased.

"There's certain information that's confidential related to security plans for the RNC," said City Attorney John Wolfe. "People would be able to figure out what kind of cameras they are if we explained how many we were getting."

Although Tampa is the host city, St. Petersburg will be seeing some action. Aside from the kickoff party at the Trop, which will be attended by more than 15,000 journalists and 5,600 delegates, the Kansas delegation plans an event at Jannus Live.

Tampa is getting quite a bit of money from the federal government for the convention. St. Petersburg leaders said they will try to get reimbursed for the cameras. Only council Chairwoman Leslie Curran voted against the cameras. She expressed concern that the city was paying for the cameras without any guarantee that the federal government would reimburse the city.

Among the unknowns with the cameras is what will happen to them after the convention.

Council member Karl Nurse has pushed for cameras to be used in neighborhoods to catch drug deals since last year. He has been frustrated about how slow the city has moved to do so, despite Mayor Bill Foster vowing in his 2009 campaign that he would use security cameras in neighborhood "hot spots" to deter crime.

Gene Webb, the Police Department's former information technology manager, revealed this year that cameras he helped install in three parks were left unattended because the city didn't have the manpower to monitor them. The program to watch drug-dealing spots was scrapped because of a lack of interest, he said.

Foster said that if council members wanted cameras in drug-dealing neighborhoods, it was up to them to figure out a way to pay for them.

As for the new cameras, Nurse said he had been told by City Administrator Tish Elston that they would first go in downtown for the RNC events and then be moved to the neighborhoods.

"After the convention, we'll be able to put them in the hot spots," Nurse said.

But Thursday, Foster said he has no intention of moving the cameras once they are installed downtown.

"They're not for neighborhoods," Foster said.

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