HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. - A heavy security presence could be seen at Orient Road Jail. From those that guarded the gate to deputies lining up for shift change. Inside, a 24 hour command center created in preparation for mass arrests of protesters during the Republican National Convention.
And while, demonstrators showed up, the anticipated arrests didn't happen.
Colonel Jim Previtera who runs Hillsborough County detention centers, spent more than 15 months planning for mass arrests. His team, under the direction of Sheriff David Gee even decided to clear out Orient Road Jail and move all the inmates to nearby Falkenburg Road Jail to make room for the anticipated protesters.
"I am a little surprised we didn't get the crowd that we expected," said Colonel Previtera.
Colonel Previtera believes mother nature may have offered a helping hand
"A week ago at this time, weather forecast called for a powerful hurricane to come up the spine of the state. There were predictions of 8-10 inches of rain even after it started moving off the coast. Weather is a factor there is a combination of factors," Colonel Previtera said.
Including perhaps the extensive training and preparation. Tampa was given a 50 million dollars grant for security. Previtera said a portion of that money went to jails and security at his facility.
He used every resource he had to cut costs. The courtrooms downtown were shut down because of the RNC and to ensure no one's rights were violated or questioned they created a temporary booking facility and courtroom.
Counters were built in his engineers warehouse and they brought out old computers. The jail was ready to process an additional 1000 arrests.
Previtera even had a public defenders office created. He staffed an entire medical team to handle any type of injuries.
"Some people have asked outside the jail, did you do to much? And I think the answer to that question is you can't need it and not have it," said Colonel Previtera. "We had to be prepared. The sheriff (David Gee) wanted us to be ready."
At that's because at the last RNC in Minneapolis, 800 people were arrested and the city saw lots of violence. Prior to that, in 2004, New York saw 1800 hundred arrests.
"The indication right off the bat was that the situation would merit this type of preparation," explained Colonel Previtera.
He said there are no regrets on many levels.
"Really for our staff I think it's been a morale boost because they realize what our capabilities are and they have seen a system that can handle a large number of people and they are part of that," said Colonel Previtera.
His department was budgeted 1.5 million dollars. He scaled down staff when he thought necessary and thinks the jails costs will come in at under a million. Another win for Tampa.
Reporters note: My assignment during the RNC was the jails. It was anticipated that there would be a a lot of arrests and a lot of activity going on there. I think we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when that did not happen.
Our law enforcement deserves a pat on the back, I saw first hand how well the jail was organized under Colonel Previtera. The respect, professionalism and work ethic of the deputies and police is to be admired.
There were situations with protesters that popped up. But, our law enforcement was able to diffuse the situations before they escalated.
Tampa Police led the charge under the direction of Police Chief Jane Castor. Some activist even publicly spoke out and said law enforcement earned their respect. At one point Assistant Chief John Bennett, leaned down to talk the demonstrators off the sidewalk and into a more safe and secure area.
Sheriff Gee was out with his troops the entire time and helping to maintain the peace downtown.
Prior to this event, I asked then mayor Pam Iorio, who helped secure the RNC during her term, the one reason why she thought the bay area was ready, she adamantly declared-because of our police department. Iorio appointed Castor as chief.
Current Mayor Bob Buckhorn also told me he was confident that this event would make Tampa shine in the national spotlight and our law enforcement played a key role.
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