With the Republican National Convention about eight months away, the Tampa Police Department has begun drawing on $50 million in security funding provided by Congress.
The Tampa City Council on Thursday approved two major purchases by the police department: an armored vehicle for $272,000 and a $1.2 million communication system that will modernize the city's "eyes in the sky" helicopter-based surveillance.
Assistant Police Chief Marc Hamlin said the city had sought more money for security.
As the convention approaches, city officials are urging the owners of downtown skyscrapers to "harden" their buildings against potential security risks posed by thousands of protesters who are expected to descend on the area.
The federal security money the city gets can't be used to secure private businesses, Hamlin said. Police will help building owners assess their security risks to help them prepare, he said.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn said this week he would like companies to allow workers to telecommute when feasible.
Hamlin echoed that Thursday, adding that companies should consider invoking the plans for operating after a hurricane or other emergency.
The bulk of the $50 million will pay for up to 4,000 law officers needed to patrol the convention, Hamlin said.
"We're not getting to buy a lot of equipment with this money," he told the city council. "We're only purchasing what we think is necessary."
Councilwoman Mary Mulhern asked whether the security money could be used to house homeless people during the convention.
She said she is concerned that the new armored vehicle amounts to militarizing the city's police force. "I, personally, don't feel like this is a necessity," Mulhern said.
Hamlin countered that the city has two aging armored vehicles it uses to protect officers during SWAT operations.
"They're absolute necessities for police work in America, not only Tampa," Hamlin said.
The city's existing vehicles are military surplus and are becoming difficult to maintain as spare parts become scarce.
Hamlin said the police department will supplement its armored fleet with vehicles borrowed from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and other agencies.
In other business, the council: