JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A day after voicing doubts about being able to keep the city safe during the Republican National Convention, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams was noticeably absent from a city news conference.
Instead it was left up to Mayor Lenny Curry and Undersheriff Pat Ivey on Tuesday to address how city leaders plan to secure next month’s convention and whether calling in federal law enforcement — the likes of which have been deployed to Portland, Oregon — is an option on the table.
“We have had no conversations about the need for that type of a presence in our city,” said Curry, who noted that Jacksonville police quelled violence and vandalism that unfolded briefly during last month’s unrest. “We as a city are not facing the things other cities are facing that have just let violence run rampant.”
The mayor said he was not surprised by Williams’ statements the day before.
“He shared with the team before yesterday that he was getting close to a point if he didn’t have what he needed, he was going to have to communicate that,” Curry said. “And that’s what he did yesterday. And so with that communication, now everybody’s working together to getting what he needs to make sure that the event is configured in a way that he can come to the judgment and decision his can be pulled off in a safe way.”
Asked about the sheriff’s absence, Curry noted that Williams has been on hand for most news conferences held by the city. He did not elaborate on where the sheriff was Tuesday in lieu of the media availability.
Speaking on Williams’ behalf, Ivey echoed the mayor. He said city authorities have not talked about a need for reinforcements from federal agents, who have come under criticism over their tactics in Portland, including the use of unmarked vehicles to spirit away people detained at protests.
“There is no talks whatsoever of anything like that occurring here,” the undersheriff said.
The questions come as Oregon officials speak out against the presence and actions of federal agents in Portland. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has accused federal agents of arresting people without probable cause. Mayor Ted Wheeler wants them out, saying they are escalating tensions in Portland.
President Trump, who has praised the recent federal intervention in Portland, said the Department of Justice and Homeland Security agents present are there to help keep the peace and make sure no harm comes to the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse. He hasn’t ruled out sending forces to other cities.
“More federal law enforcement, that I can tell you,” the president said while taking questions in the Oval Office Monday. “In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job. They’ve been there three days and they really have done a fantastic job in a very short period of time.”
During interviews with local and national media Monday, Williams said lingering question marks surrounding convention plans, funding and staffing meant he could not confidently promise his agency would be able to keep the city and event safe. The sheriff also noted that $50 million in federal grant funding for event security was dialed back to $33 million. He said he has not signed any contracts related to the event.
“With a growing list of challenges — be it financial, with communication, with the timeline — I cannot say with confidence that this event or our community will not be at risk,” Williams said. “I don’t have the ability to call off the convention but I don’t have what I need to keep us safe.”
Tony Chrabot, a former FBI agent and CEO of the Risk Confidence Group security firm, told News4Jax the funds from the federal grant would pay for a wide range of assets.
“You’re going to have the U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, FBI, cyber resources, explosive detection resources, air security, venue screening, tactical support and resources on the ground,” Chrabot said.
Ivey, the undersheriff, shed some light on the sheriff’s concerns. He said the biggest challenge is a truncated timeline — cities historically spend 18 months planning for major political conventions, he said, and Jacksonville has a fraction of that. He said the city has commitments for about one-quarter of the out-of-area officers needed for the convention including officers from agencies in neighboring jurisdictions.
“The only thing we are doing out of the ordinary is a timeline which no one has ever had to do,” Ivey said.
Ivey said the agency needs thousands of officers to shore up its ranks for the convention and it also needs to provide those same officers with food and lodging. Adding another wrinkle to the convention plans is a recent pivot to host some events outdoors at multiple venues.
“This is a much bigger animal,” Ivey said.
For its part, the Trump campaign seems unfazed by the sheriff’s remarks. Campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh pointed to the city’s track record of handling large-scale events such as Jaguars home games as one reason for optimism.
“We’re not considering another city,” Murtaugh told CNN Tuesday. “Jacksonville is where we’re going to be. We have high confidence it will be a great event, great series of events over the course of four days and it will be safe and security will be well maintained.”
Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.