TAMPA, Fla (WFLA) – Expect to see increased security at the College Football Playoff National Championship and the festivities surrounding it. That has nothing to do with the shooting in Fort Lauderdale.
Tampa officials have been planning for this event for months, and an increased police presence was always a part of that plan. Mayor Bob Buckhorn said officers will be in uniform and undercover.
“Don’t be surprised to see officers walking around in their tactical gear with their long guns. That’s by design … because we want anyone who might have ill intentions to know that we are there, that we’re prepared, and we’re going to keep this environment safe,” Buckhorn said.
Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward was much more tightlipped about security measures. “I’m not going to tell you everything we have in place because that is kind of defeating the purpose,” Ward said. “But I can tell you we are as safe as we’re going to be. ”
The city also activated its Joint Information Center and Emergency Operations Center. Chauncia Willis is the City of Tampa emergency coordinator. “They’re looking at traffic conditions. They’re looking at the population that’s coming in from the other states and mostly just keeping an eye on the total event to make sure that everything is going smoothly,” Willis said.
On Friday night the city hosted its first concert at the Playoff Playlist, located at Curtis Hixon Park. Officers were very visible, and that made a number of concertgoers feel at ease. Jay Hutchinson is one of them.
“Because we have all these policemen out here, I think it would be rather dumb to try anything,” Hutchinson said.
Buckhorn believes the city’s hosting of past large events has prepared it for this one. “We’ve been training for a year. We’ve got a lot of experience based on the Republican National Convention, four Super Bowls, the Bollywood Movie Awards. So we know how to do this,” he said.
The mayor said it’s important for citizens and visitors to do their part in keeping the venues safe.
“The first thing viewers can do for us, if they see something, say something. Tell a police officer. Let us worry about it. We’re going to be out here in overwhelming force. Some will be in uniform, some will not. We will have horses. We will have bikes. We will have our marine units deployed, our aviation units up in the air. We will have a heavy presence. We will have officers in tactical gear because it’s important we show the strength and show the force,” he said.