Republican Mayor Backs Sheriff’s Concerns About Convention Security
MIAMI — Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said Tuesday that he agrees with the Duval County sheriff that the existing security plan and resources for the Republican National Convention are inadequate, and said he would not be comfortable hosting the event next month unless that changes.
“Any event, anything we put on in the city of Jacksonville, I have to have my sheriff telling me it can be done,” said Curry, the Republican co-chairman of the 2020 Jacksonville Host Committee, “that he has the resources he needs and that it can be done in a safe and responsible way.”
Speaking to reporters on a video call about the novel coronavirus, Curry said he, the Republican National Committee and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office are continuing to plan for the Aug. 24-27 event in downtown Jacksonville. But he said those efforts must address concerns raised Monday by Republican Sheriff Mike Williams that planning for event security is “past the point of no return.”
The city and private host committee have been scrambling to fund and prepare for the bulk of the Republican convention festivities — including President Donald Trump’s acceptance speech — since before the RNC announced June 11 it was moving most of the events to Florida from North Carolina. Trump wanted to move the convention to Florida to ensure he could celebrate his acceptance of the party’s presidential nomination in a filled venue before thousands of supporters.
But a surge in novel coronavirus cases in Florida and throughout the country has forced the RNC to downsize its plans and bring in additional, outdoor venues in the downtown area.
The “constant evolving of the venues” has complicated the city’s ability to create a security plan, Jacksonville Undersheriff Pat Ivey said Tuesday on the video call. And the pandemic, he said, has made it more difficult to bring in hundreds of outside law enforcement officers to help police the city.
“The personnel number (needed), it is in the thousands,” said Ivey, “which is right on point with other jurisdictions that have had this exact event.”
Ivey and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office public information staff wouldn’t say exactly how many law enforcement officers will be needed for the convention, citing security precautions. But Ivey said the city only has commitments from 25% of those needed — a logistical nightmare just 34 days from the start of the convention.
“When you bring in personnel, you gotta have hotel rooms and you gotta provide meals for them,” Ivey said. “This is a much bigger animal with details than I think most people want to realize. Not that we’re not up for the challenge. The reality is there’s a timeline.”
Ivey also pushed back on comments Monday from an RNC spokeswoman who noted that the city frequently hosts 70,000-person Jacksonville Jaguar NFL football games at TIAA Bank Field — among the downtown venues incorporated in the RNC’s convention plans.
“We have a plan we have developed now over 20 years ago in reference to handling Jags game and it’s pretty much plug and play,” Ivey said. “This is a distinctly different animal.”
Complicating the matter, Jacksonville agencies are relying on the federal government to pay for the local response to the convention, and the money has yet to be allocated. Curry’s chief of staff, Jordan Elsbury, said the city continues to work with the U.S. Department of Justice to secure a federal grant worth between $33 million and $35 million.
Curry’s administration is expected to work with the Jacksonville City Council to file legislation this week to accept the grant, which would be voted on by the council next Tuesday. Until then, Curry said he’s continuing to try to work out the problems with the sheriff so that Jacksonville can host the convention.
“Public safety is my top priority. It should be the top priority of any government at any level,” he said. “Nothing Sheriff Williams said yesterday is a surprise to me or anyone on my team. It’s something we’ve been working through together.”
©2020 Miami Herald
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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