How Are Tampa Police Spending Your $50 Million?

Big money means big, new gadgets for security.

August 21, 2012, 2:52 PM

— -- Armored trucks. Digital Sandbox software upgrades. EOD X-ray machines.

If it sounds like a techie's dream come true, think again: These gadgets are all part of a slew of new gear for police in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C. -- courtesy of Congress -- as they ramp up security detail ahead of their political conventions.

Nearly 50,000 people are expected to descend on Tampa for the Republican National Convention, and 35,000 in Charlotte for its Democratic National Convention. The events are so big and politically charged that the Department of Homeland Security declared them "national special security events," handing over major security reins to the U.S. Secret Service.

For local police, Congress gave each city a $50 million grant to spend on boosted security measures that would make any tech fan jealous.

In Tampa, more than half of the grant was used on personnel costs, according to documents released by the city of Tampa. That included housing, food and transportation for the estimated 3,000 out-of-town officers who are coming to help from more than 60 different state agencies, including the Florida National Guard.

In order for all the officers to act like a united force, they'll need to dress like one: That's why Tampa spent $534,600 on new police uniforms, according to city documents.

"From a strategic perspective, it makes sense," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "It magnifies the number of officers on the street ... [to create] a perception of overwhelming force."

The khaki-colored uniforms have an American flag on one shoulder with the particular department patch on the other, Buckhorn said. They also have the officer type printed across the chest -- like "sheriff," "police" or "trooper" -- and out-of-town officers will get to keep them after the four-day Republican convention wraps.

Also on the list of purchases in Tampa: $2.3 million for closed-circuit cameras; $5.9 million in upgraded police radios and multichargers; and more than $790,000 for a fleet of new vehicles, including an armored truck, about 200 Kona Race Light 7005 aluminum bicycles and several Bobcat utility vehicles.

Tampa's grant money is almost all gone, with $2.7 million left to go, according to the Associated Press. Spokespeople for the city would not confirm that number but said specifics about individual purchases will be available after the convention.

In Charlotte, the city is also doubling down on its federal security grant.

One of its big-ticket expenses was a new central command center at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, because a "single space large enough to hold such operations does not exist at CMPD Headquarters," according to documents released by the department.

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The more-than-$1.7 million renovation project turned three adjacent conference rooms into one giant space, adding new plumbing, electrical work, video monitors and furniture along the way. The center will help coordinate between local police and the approximately 3,400 out-of-town officers who are helping at the three-day Democratic convention.

The police department also bought a high-tech EOD x-ray machine, which boasts a price tag of $64,325. The portable machine will allow a squad of trained explosives officers to check questionable boxes at the convention for a "quick and safe response to unattended packages," according to the department.

Like in Tampa, the Charlotte police force is not complete without its vehicles. The city used more than $146,000 of its grant for new wheels -- including brand new Chevrolet Tahoes, Ford F-250s and leased Harley-Davidson police motorcycles. It also purchased more than $303,500 worth of bikes for its mobile units.

Charlotte police wouldn't go into detail about numbers, but police department spokesman Robert Tufano emphasized its "tremendous" planning and coordination will play a big role in security plans.

"The goal of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is to develop a seamless security plan that will ensure a safe environment for the community, dignitaries and event participants," he said.

The Republican National Convention will be held Aug. 27 to 30 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and the Democratic National Convention will take place Sept. 4 to 6 at the Time Warner Cable Arena and Bank of America Stadium.

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