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Washington Gives Tampa $50 Million for Republican National Convention

By MITCH WEISS, Associated Press and TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press
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File photo from the 2008 Republican National Convention. (Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo from the 2008 Republican National Convention. (Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) —Security plans are taking shape for the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., efforts that will cost over $100 million and involve thousands of police officers and National Guard members.

There are fewer than seven months left until the conventions, during which President Barack Obama will rally his party faithful and the Republicans will choose their nominee.

How to keep the thousands of delegates, journalists and politicians safe is a tremendous task for each city. Security planning began months ago.

The federal government has given $100 million to Charlotte and Tampa to help prepare and pay for new equipment, training and officer salaries. The Secret Service is in charge of the security planning — although numerous other federal agencies, including the FBI, CIA, FEMA and even the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office will be deployed.

Authorities will only talk about how the money will be spent in general terms.

“We don’t discuss method, means or numbers,” said George Ogilvie, a Secret Service spokesman.

That agency is in charge of everything from airspace security to officer training to credentialing. A phalanx of state and local agencies is also involved in the planning.

“We try to address each and every possible scenario,” Ogilvie said.

The Tampa Police Department is expected to rotate most of its 1,000-officer force into convention security during the event, which begins Aug. 27 and could draw up to 45,000 people. An additional 3,000 officers from other agencies around the state will work the event.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department plans to add 2,400 to 3,400 officers from outside departments to its force of more than 1,750.

Tampa’s population is about 355,000 and the convention will be held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, which is downtown near cruise ship berths and the city’s convention center. Other events will extend throughout the metro area, which includes St. Petersburg and a total population of 4.2 million.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the city has already spent $1.18 million for a video link between police helicopters and ground staff and a $273,000 armored SWAT vehicle. The city also plans on borrowing several more armored vehicles from nearby agencies. And Tampa will spend $2 million to buy 60 downtown surveillance cameras.

Of the $50 million in federal money given to Tampa, about $30 million will go to feed and house the thousands of officers who will be in the city for the convention, Buckhorn said. The rest will be used for security-related items such as cameras, tactical gear and vehicles — equipment that Buckhorn hopes the officers won’t have to use.

Buckhorn said he’s looking at the convention not as a political even but as an “economic development opportunity” and that the safer the city is, the better for Tampa in the long run.

“It’s an opportunity we may never get again,” he said. “We want to make sure we put our best foot forward.”

The Florida National Guard expects to mobilize about 1,700 troops for the convention, spokesman Ron Tittle said. “We’re treating it as a hurricane response,” he said.

Tampa’s convention is in the middle of hurricane season, and Tittle said officials have a contingency plan in case a storm hits nearby.

There’s no such threat in landlocked Charlotte, though the city of 760,000 has been preparing for protesters. The nationwide Occupy movement has already issued a loose call for protesters for both conventions on Facebook; Tampa Police have said they are prepared for 15,000 protesters and a handful of anarchists whose intent will be to shut down the convention.

North Carolina officials caught a glimpse of what to expect earlier this month when they arrested seven people and disbanded an Occupy Charlotte tent city on the lawn outside the old City Hall. Protesters had been camped there since October.

The move came one week after Charlotte adopted an ordinance restricting political demonstrations ahead of this year’s convention. The new rules give police more power to stop and search people when the convention comes to town.

But the major part of the ordinance outlaws camping on city property.

Charlotte police say some of money will used to upgrade and buy new equipment to help protect the city during the three-day convention, which begins Sept. 4 at Time Warner Arena. Obama’s acceptance speech has been moved to the 74,000 seat outdoor Bank of America Stadium.

The city has refused to release details about what it’s buying with the federal money, including bid documents and purchase invoices. The Associated Press has filed a request to review the information.

On Friday, Charlotte released three pages showing how some of the money has been spent. About $1.7 million was used to upgrade space in its command center, and more than $131,000 was allocated to help expand and equip the department’s motorcycle unit.

The AP has filed a similar request with the Tampa City Attorney’s office.

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Mitch Weiss reported from Charlotte, N.C

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Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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