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Tampa’s police union upset over number of Super Bowl events during pandemic

The letter asked why the City of Tampa shut down other large gatherings — such as the postponement of Gasparilla — but is asking officers to be put at risk at Super Bowl events.
Blue skies and favorable weather greet the thousands of fans attending the festivities at Curtis Hixon Park during the NFL's Super Bowl 55 Experience on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa.
Blue skies and favorable weather greet the thousands of fans attending the festivities at Curtis Hixon Park during the NFL's Super Bowl 55 Experience on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 4
Updated Feb. 5

TAMPA — Tampa’s police union has accused the NFL and the local NFL Host Committee of putting profit over the safety of local law enforcement by allowing too many events to be held ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl 55.

The Tampa Police Benevolent Association published an open letter to its members Wednesday that said it was both confused and disappointed at the NFL’s decision to add more events, parties and gatherings while the city grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter focused on the dangers of COVID-19 — and the threat the virus poses to first responders at each event. It also alleges an influx of non-official events that were added after Tampa Bay Buccaneers booked a spot in the Super Bowl.

“Quite frankly, it is irresponsible and it alludes to putting dollars over officer lives and safety,” read the letter, which can be found online here.

Fans walk through the Super Bowl Experience, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)
Fans walk through the Super Bowl Experience, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano) [ STEVE LUCIANO | AP ]

The union said the City of Tampa has acted with caution for other large gatherings during the pandemic. This included the postponement of the annual Gasparilla parade, as well as the limiting of watch parties for the Lightning and Rays during their playoff runs.

“Weren’t we just asking people to cancel or limit their Thanksgiving and holiday celebrations less than a month ago?” the letter read. “If the risk is too high for pirates, the Rays and the Lightning, what’s so different for the NFL?”

Multiple phone calls, emails and messages seeking comment that were left with spokespeople for Mayor Jane Castor’s office and the NFL were not returned Thursday afternoon and evening.

Chief Brian Dugan released a statement to the Times on Thursday night in an email:

“The NFL has a limited number of sanctioned events. Having the Bucs in the Super Bowl in Tampa has created a unique dynamic. Officers have been supplied with the proper equipment and are required to wear it on assignment,” the statement read. “It’s disappointing that the PBA leadership has waited until three days before the event to express their concerns. I’m proud of the hard work and dedication of our cops who rise to the occasion and perform exemplary under difficult circumstances.”

The police union’s letter said that there have been at least 90 unofficial Super Bowl events added in a five-day period — many of which have national figures, celebrities and entertainers being advertised as being in attendance “to help draw a crowd.”

Officers have also had to staff official NFL events, too, the letter said.

Mayor Castor signed an executive order last week that required masks be worn outside while downtown, in neighborhoods around Raymond James Stadium and at all official Super Bowl 55 events.

The order, however, doesn’t apply to restaurants and bars in the city, which the police union fears could be where officers are most at risk, according to the letter.

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Related: No credible threats ahead of Super Bowl 55, officials say

Chief Dugan pleaded with Tampa residents during a security press conference Wednesday to be “responsible” while watching Super Bowl 55. The department’s resources will be spread thin helping to secure the event itself, he said, and he does not want the department to “have to be the mask police.”

“We are first responders and we are absolutely used to going into harm’s way,” the letter said. “This is no different, but we always learn to balance risk and safety. This seems extreme.”