All eyes are on the two presidential hopefuls right now—but the challenges this political season go far beyond winning the White House in November. Political conventions require a large police presence that must perform an almost impossible task: Keeping order while maintaining a low-key presence.
During the Republican National Convention in 2008, violent protests raged in host city St. Paul, Minnesota. But peace was the order of the day in Tampa during this year’s RNC, and even protestors were full of praise for the police who took a calm but watchful approach to protecting the city.
Only small numbers of officers were present at a Planned Parenthood Action Fund rally, an AFL-CIO march, and other protests. Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor explained, “We don’t want to show an overwhelming number of officers,” she said. “We want to have a measured approach.”
The police had an unexpected advantage at this year’s RNC because protests were much smaller than early projections. But there were problems and challenges nevertheless. Police were baited by protestors, and traffic was disrupted several times by spontaneous demonstrations. Police in riot gear stood ready to intervene when one protest took over a busy downtown intersection.
Despite the problems, police consistently maintained a delicate balance between keeping order and allowing protestors to have their say. Chief Castor mingled with protestors and supported their right to demonstrate. “We’re allowing people to exercise their rights,” she said. At the end of one march, Chief Castor could be seen riding in a blue Ford Expedition and waving at the crowd.
Protestors and observers said they were impressed by the professionalism of the officers on duty, who came from about 60 Florida agencies. “If we were in New York, there were plenty of moments we would have all been arrested,” said protestor Brendon Hunt. Mayor Bob Buckhorn praised Chief Castor for “a presence that goes beyond just the uniform,” adding that “she’s got a good heart.”
Many of the strategies that contributed to Tampa’s peaceful RNC were copied by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department for the Democratic National Convention. Chief Rodney Monroe from Charlotte brought ten of his officers down to observe procedures in Tampa.
One of those strategies is expected to spread beyond Charlotte. During the RNC, bicycle squads—200 officers on bicycles from a number of agencies that Castor called “fast moving packs of law enforcement”—patrolled downtown Tampa. When the out-of-town officers left, they took their bikes and their training with them. “So, if you have a small city or a small county that can’t afford a bicycle unit,” said Castor, “now they’re going to have those assets in their community as well.”
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Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of seven books, including Police Talk (Pearson), co-written with the late Mary Mariani. Visit her website at www.YourPoliceWrite.com for free report writing resources. Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview of her book The Criminal Justice Report Writing Guide for Officers. Dr. Reynolds is the police report writing expert for Law Enforcement Today.