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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Plan works; we have Tampa back

Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 01:55 AM

We're ready to stop thinking about anarchists, protesters and whether some wing nut on a rooftop is going to drop a brick on our heads just for fun.

"We'll be getting back to fixing potholes and getting cats out of trees," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Friday morning, still on fumes after pulling a near all-nighter on the last day of the Republican National Convention.

Those aren't leftover winds from Hurricane Isaac you felt Friday morning. That was the collective exhale of relief when the preconvention worst-case scenarios gave way to best-case results when the spotlights came on.

Prophesies the week would turn into Tampageddon never happened. A show of force, said by many to be the largest ever for a convention, absolutely worked.

"Obviously we had to be prepared for the worst," Police Chief Jane Castor said.

Anyone who heard the helicopters overhead or saw the legions of uniformed officers from Tampa, Hillsborough County, around the state, and the Secret Service would say, "Yep, the city was prepared."

Officials said only two arrests were directly related to the RNC, and a tactical decision by the cops to play nice no doubt helped keep the total down. It was the darndest thing. On walks around the convention area, the police were professional and engaging, quick to say hello. They were efficient.

As the week went on, any fear that Tampa would be known for scenes of tear gas clouds and bloodied protesters gave way to calm.

"You usually don't hear warm, friendly and approachable used to describe officers, but that's all I have heard this week," Castor said.

There were tales of police offering water and food to protesters. They refused to get baited into confrontations on those rare occasions where protesters tried to push things. A little calm talk and a firm but polite approach makes for a better city image than clubs and riot shields.

"We could not have done it any better than we did," Buckhorn said.

Buckhorn is given to hyperbole when it comes to his city, but he may be on the mark here. We all saw the images of the last RNC in Minnesota, with the violent confrontations between protesters and police. It could have happened here.

That's why cops were everywhere downtown. It was a jarring sight, but whether you thought it was excessive depended on where you live. It may have looked like too much at first, but that was the idea. And for months, all anyone heard was about all the things that could go wrong.

By midweek, though, Castor was receiving reports that anarchists were packing up and heading to Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic convention. It was a welcome sight.

So, we have our city back. We'll know soon whether all the expense and trouble leading up to the RNC was worth it, but on the issue of security you can't argue with results.

"They have performed magnificently," Buckhorn said.

The plan worked, the city is in one piece. Everyone was safe. We can breathe again.

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