Clouds gather over GOP convention
Tampa, Fla. - Tropical Storm Isaac could force a shakeup of the security plans for the GOP convention in Tampa, because about half of the expected officers come from other parts of Florida and some could be forced to stay home for the storm, authorities said Thursday.
But Gov. Rick Scott said the Florida National Guard is ready to step in if needed to fill the gap.
More than 3,500 officers from 59 law enforcement agencies from around the state are scheduled to patrol Tampa streets as the convention opens Monday. About half would come from outside Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa.
About 1,700 National Guard troops already were expected to help with patrols.
"We have a process where we can call up more National Guard as quickly as we need them," Scott said. "If we know now that some individuals are not going to show up, we have plenty of time to add more National Guard, but at this time we don't see that we're going to have a problem."
The storm is forecast to start affecting South Florida on Monday and could reach the Tampa area by Tuesday.
"We're in a situation right now where we don't know what's going to happen," Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said. "My primary concern right now is that we will lose resources."
Gee said some agencies, especially in South Florida, might decide not to send officers to Tampa if the storm threatens their areas. "As things change, they might have to prioritize," he said.
Scott, however, said additional guardsmen - instead of heading to Tampa - could go the other way and fill in back home for the visiting officers because the latter already are trained for convention duty.
The Republican governor also said he has spoken on the telephone with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to assure him Florida can handle the convention and the storm.
Scott noted that a recent National Hurricane Center update had moved the centerline of the storm track from 85 miles west of Tampa to about 150 miles west of the area. Virtually the entire state, though, is included within the five-day forecast cone.
"Right now it's full speed ahead," Scott said. "We're looking forward to the delegates coming. We're going to keep them safe. ... We're a hospitality state that knows how to deal with hurricanes."
Gee's agency is in charge of the county where the convention will take place. The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office is providing the bulk of the staffing for the event because it is the largest agency in the area and also oversees the county jail. Tampa Police is the other main agency handling security outside of the convention hall. The Secret Service is in charge of everything inside the convention hall.
The sheriff joined Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor and representatives from the FBI and Secret Service at a media event Thursday. As they spoke to reporters, a large TV screen tuned to a cable news channel showed colorful radar images of Isaac swirling in the Caribbean.
Convention officials said they were working closely with state and federal authorities on monitoring the storm.
"We continue to move forward with our planning and look forward to a successful convention," convention CEO William Harris said in a statement.
Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground, said the storm's current forecast indicates Tampa is unlikely to take a direct hit from a potential hurricane. When the storm passes the Bay area, it's likely to have an east-west motion, meaning it could sideswipe Tampa, causing rain and flooding, but not directly strike the city.
Chief Castor said she wasn't worried about redeployment of officers; when she initially asked other agencies to help, she told them they should only send people that they could spare.
She said the security team factored in the possibility of another event, such as a storm, happening during the Republican National Convention. "We'll adjust our plans," she said. "We're used to that in law enforcement."
Steven Ibison, the special agent in charge of the Tampa division of the FBI, said he wasn't concerned about the number of officers on the ground.
"The FBI isn't involved in weathercasting," he said. "But we have plans in place. We always do here in Tampa."
Castor and Gee stressed it was too early for any agency to dramatically change plans. Castor said that no one would really know where Isaac was headed until late this weekend.
"The only predictable element about a tropical storm or hurricane is its unpredictability," she said.
Associated Press Writers Gary Fineout and Bill Kaczor in Tallahassee and Christine Armario in Miami contributed to this report.
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