Jacksonville Sheriff Says He Won’t Be Able to Keep the GOP Convention Safe

July 21, 2020by Dan Scanlan, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville (TNS)
Interview with Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams in his office at the Police Memorial Building Tuesday, January 7, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Bob Self/Florida Times-Union/TNS)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office will be unable to keep the Republican National Convention safe when it comes to the city next month, Sheriff Mike Williams said in a frank interview with local news outlets Monday afternoon.

Right now, he says they only have “bits and pieces” of a plan to handle the event.

“Where we are today is we can’t support this plan,” he said in the interview. “Where do we go from here is a good question. But where we are today, we can’t support it.”

Williams added, “There’s got to be some major reworking of what’s happening.”

He said he’d been in touch with Mayor Lenny Curry, who has been a vocal advocate for bringing the convention here even as other cities’ leaders expressed concerns about the scale of a major political convention that brings thousands of law enforcement, protesters, delegates and dignitaries.

Williams said Curry understood the sheriff’s concerns as they have talked about them, including just before the sheriff’s news conference. Williams said he didn’t know what action the mayor could take at this point.

Republican National Convention Spokesperson Emma Vaughn said they continue to work closely with Jacksonville officials on the event, including health and security measures.

“The Department of Justice is in the process of allocating millions of dollars in a safety grant,” Vaughn said in a statement. “Jacksonville has accommodated upwards of 70,000 people for football games and other events, and we are confident in state, local and federal officials to be able to ensure a safe event for our attendees.”

And Curry’s chief of staff, Jordan Elsbury, said what’s coming in about 35 days has been the subject of many discussions with all city leaders.

“From the onset of this process the Mayor and our administration have remained in constant communication with JSO, State and Federal law enforcement on providing safety and security for our City,” Elsbury’s brief statement said. “Over the next few days we will continue to meet with Sheriff Mike Williams and his team on how to prioritize public safety related to this event.”

The sheriff said he’s only gotten about 25% of what he requested as far as funding for the security. Williams says he has already been talking to Republican Party officials about the issues, and said he “cannot say with good conscience that we are ready” to keep the event and community safe during the event.

“All of those things have been a concern for a couple of weeks,” he said “But again, we are inside of 40 days away. We should be fine tuning this and I really don’t have a solid plan. … This one’s not going to work.”

The biggest concern the sheriff said he had was having the right amount of resources to handle everything that comes with a convention like this, from protests “outside of the perimeter, things that we know we will have to deal with.”

“We have to have the right equipment. We have to have the right number of personnel to handle that,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have that.”

That includes contracts that have to prepared for some of what they need, but can’t because grants and funds from the U.S. Department of Justice are not available yet.

As far as having the convention canceled, the sheriff said that is “not my call and not my job.” And for all he knows, organizers may come back with another plan. But he remembers that the city had two years to plan for the 2005 Super Bowl, while there’s normally an 18-month planning period for the Republican National Convention, and not the few months they have had.

“Are we talking about scrapping the whole plan and trying to put something together within 40 days?” Williams said. “I don’t see that happening and I haven’t seen it coming together at this point.”

The Republican National Convention is scheduled to take place downtown at several venues from Aug. 24 through Aug. 27. It was initially scheduled for Charlotte, North Carolina, but President Donald Trump moved it after the North Carolina governor indicated masks may be mandatory during the event.

Williams said some people may have thought that some officials thought Jacksonville could “plug and play” the security measures that had been proposed when Charlotte was holding the event. But he said that is not the case since many changes had to be made in a completely different city and “start from scratch.”

A majority of Jacksonville residents oppose the convention coming here, a poll has found. And the day after the mayor announced the city had secured the Republican convention, community and business leaders as well as local Democratic Party leaders protested the event over health, crime and crowd concerns.

Public records show that planning for the convention has dominated the sheriff’s public calendar, sometimes with as many as five planning meetings on his calendar in a day.

The Sheriff’s Office also faces a lawsuit from protesters who cite the coming convention as a reason that a federal judge should issue an injunction limiting the Sheriff’s Office’s ability to arrest and use violent crowd-control tactics.


©2020 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

In The News

GOP Candidate Clings to 8-vote Lead in US House Race in Iowa
State News
GOP Candidate Clings to 8-vote Lead in US House Race in Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A Republican candidate saw her vote lead dwindle to single digits Wednesday in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District as a dramatic recount moved toward a conclusion in a race that will help determine the size of Democrats’ majority in the House of... Read More

They're Baaack: Trump and Allies Still Refuse Election Loss
2020 Elections
They're Baaack: Trump and Allies Still Refuse Election Loss

WASHINGTON (AP) — Monday seemed like the end of President Donald Trump's relentless challenges to the election, after the federal government acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden was the “apparent winner” and Trump cleared the way for cooperation on a transition of power. But his baseless claims have... Read More

Sorry, Grinch. Virus Won't Stop NORAD from Tracking Santa
In The News
Sorry, Grinch. Virus Won't Stop NORAD from Tracking Santa

WASHINGTON (AP) — Children of the world can rest easy. The global pandemic won't stop them from tracking Santa Claus' progress as he delivers gifts around the globe on Christmas Eve. The North American Aerospace Defense Command has announced that NORAD will track Santa on Dec.... Read More

High Court Blocks NY Coronavirus Limits on Houses of Worship
Supreme Court
High Court Blocks NY Coronavirus Limits on Houses of Worship

WASHINGTON (AP) — As coronavirus cases surge again nationwide the Supreme Court late Wednesday barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus. The justices split 5-4 with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the... Read More

Biden Seeks Unity as Trump Stokes Fading Embers of Campaign
Political News
Biden Seeks Unity as Trump Stokes Fading Embers of Campaign

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — On a day of grace and grievance, President-elect Joe Biden summoned Americans to join in common purpose against the coronavirus pandemic and their political divisions while the man he will replace stoked the fading embers of his campaign to “turn the election... Read More

Black Friday Offers Beacon of Hope to Struggling Stores
Black Friday Offers Beacon of Hope to Struggling Stores

NEW YORK (AP) — After months of slumping sales and businesses toppling into bankruptcy, Black Friday is offering a small beacon of hope. In normal times, Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, drawing millions of shoppers eager to get started on their... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top