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Police detail enhanced security measures for this year's Gasparilla festivities

Published Jan. 17, 2014

TAMPA — Spectators at Tampa's annual Gasparilla festival can expect camera surveillance, more police presence and a bomb sweep of all parade floats, among other enhanced security measures at this year's events.

The changes come in the wake of last year's bombings at the Boston Marathon. Tampa police Chief Jane Castor said Thursday that the agency consulted with Massachusetts State Police officials, who responded to that incident, in order to assess what changes might be appropriate for Gasparilla and other large local events.

But ultimately, those who attend the parade and related events represent the first line of defense, the chief said.

"I believe the Boston bombings basically changed the landscape nationwide on how large-scale events will be handled," Castor said. "We're asking the public, first and foremost, to be responsible. But also, if they see anything suspicious, to be the eyes and ears of law enforcement."

The enhanced security will not be a dramatic shift from years past, Castor said, though the chief highlighted key changes.

Among them: more officers on patrol at the parades on Bayshore Boulevard, including Saturday's Gasparillla Children's Parade, Castor said. The increase will not be huge, but the entire department will work the day of the big parade of pirates on Jan. 25.

Officers will be assigned to one of six divisions along the route. The public will easily spot them, as all will don yellow vests.

Specialized response teams, which will include intelligence and tactical response officers, will deploy in the event of anything unexpected, the chief said. As in years past, Hillsborough County deputies and Florida Highway Patrol troopers will assist with parade preparations.

Police also will use two "SkyWatch" posts with items loaned from the Seminole Police Department and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. The elevated platforms will give officers an aerial view of the parade route.

Surveillance cameras, which Tampa obtained when the city hosted the Republican National Convention in 2012, also will be monitored by police looking for suspicious items or activity.

A preparade sweep of all 140 floats, including the use of bomb-sniffing dogs, will take place well before the event's start time.

In addition to security, Castor highlighted the department's efforts to educate the public about its efforts to manage the festivities. Those include a 30-second public service announcement to air on local TV, encouraging people if they "see something, say something."

Officials encouraged the public to download the Tampa Police Department's mobile application, which lets people report crimes or suspicious activity.

Dr. James Von Thron, the captain of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, said the krewe worked closely with police to prepare for this year's events.

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"We want everyone to have a wonderful time, but we also want to be safe," Von Thron said. "When you feel safe, it's obviously more fun."


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