To effectively patrol the congested downtown and make officers more approachable, the city plans to buy 200 bicycles for the Republican National Convention.
The Kona bikes cost nearly $1,600 each and, pending Tampa City Council approval next month, will be bought with nearly $320,000 in federal grant money earmarked for RNC security.
"If somebody is on a bike, they're very approachable," Hillsborough County Sheriff's Capt. Kyle Cockream said. "There's no car barrier between them and the public."
Investigators from 15 agencies throughout the state will work together on RNC bike patrol. Some already have completed training, while others will be trained in coming weeks.
The RNC runs from Aug. 27-30 and is expected to draw about 50,000 people to downtown Tampa.
After the convention the agencies will keep the bicycles and use them to bolster their patrols. Tampa police and Hillsborough deputies will keep the greatest percentage of the bikes.
Money for the bicycles comes from $50 million set aside by Congress for convention security. City officials said $25 million from that federal grant will pay for everything from armored vehicles to hotel rooms for at least 3,000 visiting police officers.
The city has spent about $12.5 million on convention security. Some of those purchases include: $6 million for new two-way radios and other communication equipment; $2 million for a closed-circuit surveillance system; $273,000 for an armored SWAT truck; and $815,000 for body armor and protective gear.
The bikes are expensive because they are state-of-the-art and specialized, with everything from police lights and sirens to better shocks and bigger wheels.
Investigators discussed the bikes during a training session today at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
The training is designed in part to get riders on rough terrain – areas that could be problematic, Cockream said. This week, 26 law enforcement officers are riding up steps, making slow-speed maneuvers and bailing off the bikes. The participants have various roles with law enforcement agencies in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Hillsborough County, Pasco County and Plant City.
Officers on bikes have several advantages. They can more easily navigate through crowds and they carry first-aid kits that potentially allow them to serve as first responders during emergencies.
During the RNC, officers on bikes could be helpful in simple ways, too, such as providing directions to visitors, Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.
"It's important that we have a very friendly, approachable police presence," she said.