The Tampa Bay area is best known for being a tourist destination and home to the U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command, both at MacDill Air Force Base. Relatively few people know that the area is also an international destination for training in various areas of political diplomacy.
In fact, from April 28 to May 1, more than 80 international law enforcement, security, counternarcotic and judicial officials visited the area for a seminar that is part of the U.S. Department of State's program called Toward a More Safe and Secure World.
In its fourth year, the initiative is sponsored by the State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program. It focuses on threats to international peace and security, including terrorism, narcotics and human trafficking, border threats, money laundering and cyber warfare. A daylong training in St. Petersburg dealt with "multijurisdictional" law enforcement.
The Toward a More Safe and Secure World participants traveled for three weeks to several American cities for training. St. Petersburg was chosen as a site for several reasons. One is that World Partnerships Inc., based downtown, is a supporter of the International Visitor Leadership Program. Over nearly 20 years, it has organized some 30,000 professional meetings in the Gulf Coast's eight-county region for about 5,000 visitors from 188 countries.
The uniqueness of St. Petersburg College's Allstate Center is another reason the initiative came here.
"The Allstate Center is the only place in the United States that teaches 'Multijurisdictional Task Force Training' to audiences other than the military," said Gary Springer, World Partnerships' president and CEO. "SPC includes local law enforcement, all first responders, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Guard and other military branches. This is why the State Department decided to send the international group to St. Pete."
St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway, who assists World Partnerships, is not surprised St. Petersburg was chosen for the international gathering.
"Our local law enforcement and government agencies, educational facilities and NGOs, the quality and diversity of the personnel in these organizations, and the types and number of collaborations we participate in on a regular basis, means St. Petersburg is ideally suited to host these kinds of events," Holloway said. "Working together, whether it is on a task force aimed at a specific issue, or at events such as this where we share information and best practices, means we are more effective at fighting criminal activity which crosses jurisdictional boundaries."
Over the years, World Partnerships, an affiliate of the State Department, has recruited many local public agencies and private organizations to work with the International Visitor Leadership Program.
A State Department spokeswoman said Toward a More Safe and Secure World training at the Allstate Center is an example of so-called "soft diplomacy." It is a term used in international affairs to describe the ability of a political body, such as the United States, to indirectly influence interests and behavior through engagement short of violent confrontations and war. She said that while America's participation in the Toward a More Safe and Secure World initiative is meant to help other nations, it also means self-preservation. When the U.S. works with allies and partners to help shape a freer, more secure and more prosperous world, Americans benefit in untold ways.
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And with the rise of global terrorism, many government officials worldwide believe that soft diplomacy is more important than ever.
"This was an ideal opportunity for many of our law enforcement and education partners to meet face to face in a collaborative manner," said Holloway, whose department provided security for the visitors. "Sharing information and discussing best practices allow participants to gain a greater understanding of the issues we all face as we work towards our common goal of making our communities and the world safer."