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.

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

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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