JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry said Tuesday he was not surprised that Sheriff Mike Williams warned Monday that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is not prepared to provide adequate security for the Republican National Convention.
When asked about Williams’ assessment, Curry said he agreed.
“He knows what he’s talking about clearly, so the position he takes is we are not prepared for this right now. Yes, I agree with him,” the mayor said during a news conference Tuesday. “However, he’s also communicated that he’s continuing to work with the planners to configure this in a way that is safe and getting the resources that he needs.”
As for the next steps, Curry went on to say all parties involved in the planning for the RNC have to find a way to get JSO what it needs to ensure security and public safety during the convention in August.
“Everybody is working to get the resources that are needed for our law enforcement and to partner with other agencies around the state and in the country. Provided we get to that, provided we get our sheriff and team comfortable -- and comfortable to where they can say they can do this in a safe way -- we communicate that at that time and move forward,” Curry said. “That’s what’s happening right now and that’s what everybody is working on right now.”
Jordan Elsbury, the mayor’s chief of staff, told reporters the federal grant of $33 million to $35 million to help with RNC planning is just a few days away.
Williams was absent from Tuesday’s news conference, and the question was posed to Undersheriff Pat Ivey: How many personnel will be needed to provide adequate security? He couldn’t put a specific number on it, but said it was “thousands.” Ivey said the 25% commitment mentioned by the sheriff includes manpower promised by other agencies, like the outlying sheriffs’ offices.
Ivey was asked about federal assistance with security. He asserted there have been no conversations about the need for federal agents in Jacksonville because the city hasn’t faced things happening in other cities -- what he called “violence run rampant.” Ivey said preparing for a national political convention traditionally takes 18 months, but the timeline that Jacksonville faces is one “that no one else has ever had to deal with.”
The convention was moved from Charlotte to Jacksonville last month after North Carolina’s governor told the RNC it would have to comply with social distancing rules. Ivey said the city of Charlotte may send resources, but couldn’t be more specific.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s campaign said it was not considering another city, stressing “Jacksonville is where we’re going to be.”
“The people in law enforcement in the city of Jacksonville have a lot of experience with providing security for large-scale events. On Sundays in the fall, with the Jacksonville Jaguars, they pack 70,000 people into a football stadium. I’m pretty sure they can handle security at an event like the RNC in their city,” Trump Campaign Communications Director Tim Murtaugh said on CNN. “These are different. and that’s why they’ll have access to $30 million of a DOJ (Department of Justice) grant because it’s designated as a national security event.”
In addition to time, Ivey said the shift of the plan to move convention events outside for a good part of the week added more hurdles.
“I’ve heard the analogies of how come you can have a Jaguars game with 70,000 people and there are no issues, but you’re going to have an RNC and your probably max day would not have that much attend one of the events? It’s apples and oranges. We have a plan we developed that we developed over 20 years in reference to handling Jaguars games, and it’s pretty much plug and play. The only factors, other than a few variables to change are, who’s the opposing team? But your security plan is set. This is a distinctly different animal. What happens in this is the constant evolving of the venues,” Ivey said.
“With that, the plan changes. For the security plan to be solid, you allot for those changes. That personal number -- I don’t have the exact number -- but it’s in the thousands that we asked for, which is right on point with other jurisdictions that had this exact event.”
Reporters asked Ivey if JSO’s efforts to secure the RNC would come at the expense of dealing with the ongoing violent crime surge in the city, which has seen more than 100 homicides already. Ivey promised JSO won’t let the RNC “pull away from us keeping our community safe to the best of our ability.”
JSO responded to a media request about the sheriff’s calendar, which shows that every day (except weekends), he has a virtual meeting at 9 a.m. with the RNC staff administrator. That daily session goes all the way through Aug. 28, the day after the RNC ends.
On Friday, the Jacksonville City Council will meet, and City Council President Tommy Hazouri said he has many questions regarding the federal funding and how this will be handled in Jacksonville.
Curry acknowledged, as the RNC is being scaled back, so will the economic benefit, but he insisted there will still be a positive impact.
The mayor said the recent surge in COVID-19 cases seems to be stabilizing, and he’s cautiously optimistic to see the positivity rate drop to about 10%. He said there’s been a slight reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 531 patients in the city’s medical facilities, including 118 in intensive care units. He called on the public to continue to follow virus protocols and said personal responsibility is crucial to getting the virus under control.