Florida sheriff says Jacksonville can’t guarantee safety for August GOP convention

The Duval County sheriff said Monday that security plans were inadequate for the proposed Jacksonville, Fla., Republican National Convention to be held Aug. 24 through 27. File Photo by Pete Marovich/UPI

July 21 (UPI) — The chief Florida law enforcement officer tasked with providing security for the August Republican National Convention said Monday that his department does not have the resources nor adequate planning time to handle the event.

“We can’t pull it off in any kind of current configuration,” Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams said in a press conference. “As we’re talking today, we are still not close to having some kind of plan that we can work with that makes me comfortable that we’re going to keep that event and the community safe. There’s got to be some major re-working of what’s happening.”

Williams, a Republican, said he has received only 25% of the money promised for security and untold costs could escalate to deal with protesters outside the venue or venues proposed for the convention.

“All of those things have been a concern for a couple of weeks,” Williams 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.”

Emma Vaughn, Republican National Committee spokeswoman, said the committee would continue to work closely with Jacksonville officials to nail down the details.

“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.”

The Republican National Committee announced in June that the in-person convention, scheduled for Aug. 24 through Aug. 27, would be moved from Charlotte, N.C., to Jacksonville after North Carolina’s Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said he could not guarantee that the indoor convention could take place within public health and safety regulations.

Rather than a smaller convention with masked attendees, Trump and the RNC made plans to vacate to Jacksonville.

But as the spread of coronavirus has spiked in Florida, RNC organizers were revamping plans and proposed moving several of the more well-attended events, such as Trump’s acceptance speech, from the 15,000-seat VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena to multiple outdoor venues, including the TIAA Bank Field. Local organizers said sanitizing protocols and adequate masks and social distancing would be enforced during the events.

But many prominent Republicans said they would not be attending the convention, citing threats from the coronavirus pandemic.

Jacksonville City Council President Tommy Hazouri, a Democrat said he feared that protesters might clash with armed federal troops from the Department of Homeland Security like the ones currently deployed in Portland, Ore.

“The physical safety of our people and our citizens and those who would be coming here can’t be at risk. It’s got to be minimal. With law enforcement’s position, I’m on the side of the law on this. I’m on the side of the sheriff,” Hazouri said.

The number of coronavirus cases in Duval County has risen to 17,245 confirmed cases with 98 deaths, according to the Florida Department of Health.


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