Jacksonville, FL – The Duval County sheriff said there’s no way that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) can be ready for the Republican National Convention in August at the rate plans have progressed so far.
Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams called a press conference on Monday to express his concerns about the lack of planning and funding that have been confirmed for the upcoming events, WJXT reported.
Sheriff Williams told reporters that there was no timeline established that they could work with to plan staffing for the events.
He also said that he had not been able to recruit enough law enforcement officers from other agencies to make is possible to handle the onslaught of convention attendees expected to descend on Jacksonville from Aug. 24 to Aug. 27 and still adequately serve the citizens of his city and county, Politico reported.
Jacksonville is the largest city by area in the United States and spans 840 square miles. It’s also the most populated city in Florida.
“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,” Sheriff Williams explained, according to Politico.
“It’s not my event to plan, but I can just tell you that what has been proposed in my opinion is not achievable right now… from a law enforcement standpoint, from a security standpoint,” the sheriff said.
The venue was moved to Jacksonville after Democratic North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper refused to promise President Donald Trump that he would allow events to go forward regardless of the pandemic, Politico reported.
“We are tasked with, obviously, keeping the events safe, keeping our community safe during the event. I can tell you in this current configuration. I don’t feel comfortable we can do that,” Sheriff Williams said.
When the convention was moved, the President insisted that it would be the usual full-size event it has been in past years.
However, as concerns about a resurgence in virus cases has grown, the scope of the event planned for Jacksonville has shrunk considerably, according to Politico.
But it’s the lack of planning that has really stumped police who have to cover the event, according to WJXT.
Sheriff Williams said the promised $50 million grant to cover security costs had been reduced to $33 million.
He also complained that because plans for events and locations were not confirmed, it was impossible to nail down necessary contracts and prepare, WJXT reported.
“Listen, maybe if things had gone perfectly, we’d gotten there, but they didn’t,” the sheriff said. “I mean, from the very beginning, there’s been challenges with communication… You know, I need to know the things I need. They’re going to be here in a month. And as it stands right now. I have no idea.”
But the mayor of Jacksonville and the Republican National Committee (RNC) seemed committed to the plan and have said they believed the planning – including security – was under control, WJXT reported.
“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,” RNC spokeswoman Mandi Merritt said in a written statement, according to Politico.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry seemed to be of the same mind when his office released a statement later on Monday, WJXT reported.
“From the onset of this process, the mayor and our administration have remained in constant communication with JSO, state, and federal law enforcement on providing safety and security for our city. Over the next few days we will continue to meet with Sheriff Mike Williams and his team on how to prioritize public safety related to this event,” Jordan Elsbury, Curry’s chief of staff, said.
But a lot of it comes down to having actual police officers available to work the convention’s various events, Politico reported.
“We do need law enforcement officers and we’ve gotten commitments, but not to the level that we thought we needed. And a lot of that is people having virus concerns from their communities, and I understand that,” Sheriff Williams explained.
So far, even with the assistance of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, only 500 officers are available to work the Republic National Convention, Politico reported.
“But there’s a lot of things that need to happen: an event schedule nailed down, and being able to sign contracts and spend money so that we can prepare for this event. And none of that has happened yet,” the sheriff said. “So here we are inside of 40 days, and I haven’t really pulled the trigger on anything RNC-related when it comes to finances or contracts and so, you know, only related to security, mind you, nothing, nothing related to any of this.”
He said that even if they’d started planning for the convention to be in Jacksonville in early June, it still would have been difficult to pull off, Politico reported.
“At virtually 75 days it was an incredible lift, and everything would have to be perfect. And needless to say it has not,” Sheriff Williams said. “So you know with that, we can’t pull it off in any kind of current configuration. But again, it’s not my job to plan the RNC. It’s my job to be able to provide security for it, but I can’t do it right now in this time frame with this current configuration of the event.”
Other sheriffs said they sympathized with Sheriff Williams because violent protesters were expected to plague the events as they did during the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia and the GOP convention in Cleveland in 2016.
“It’s like a gun fight,” Martin County Sheriff Bill Snyder, who is sending 20 officers to assist in Jacksonville, told Politico. “I don’t think we should have gun fights. But if you have one, I’m coming.”
“It will be a noxious brew of vitriol and emotion,” Sheriff Snyder predicted.