Crime & Courts
Bodyguards, security in demand during RNC
TAMPA - Sometime around the last week of August, teams of highly trained security professionals will spend time scouting locations around the Tampa area, making sure the people who are there are supposed to be there. Others will be stationed at local hotels and in the constant presence of the clients who hire them. It's all part of the secretive and, for one week at least, booming world of personal security services protecting what they call PCs – precious cargo. The Republican National Convention, with tens of thousands of delegates, dignitaries, celebrities, media and protesters flocking to town, "will be good for the local security business across the board, absolutely," said Michael Sugg, president of Spectrum Investigation.Spectrum Investigation is one of the many security firms who expect to see an uptick in business during the convention week. Sugg, whose company normally is mostly involved in the insurance fraud investigation business, said about half of the people he hires will be working high-level personal security details for out-of-towners coming in for the convention. Spectrum and other firms, like Critical Intervention Services and Lionfish Protection and Investigation Group, say they have been hired out to provide personal security for the week. Other companies are being called to provide uniformed personnel to stand guard. Adam Clarke, director of threat management for Critical Intervention Services, likens the convention to when the Super Bowl was here, both in terms of increased security measures and business opportunities. "We will se some high-level business folks come in from out of town: political figures, some celebrity contingent who are coming to see and be seen at events,'' Clarke said. "It is almost like the Super Bowl of politics. And there will be many of the same security measures.'' Clarke won't name names of incoming clients but said Critical Intervention Services will have upward of a dozen to protect during the convention. "People who are coming in are looking for personal protection, escorts in and out of the convention as well as a number of these spin-off events that take place all over Tampa Bay hosted by different companies," Clarke said. "Their concerns are how to get from Point A and Point B without being harassed or injured by protestors." Lionfish owner Jeff Morelock agreed with the Super Bowl analogy but said that for his clients, the bigger concern is not with protestors. "More people are worried about getting robbed and things like that," said Morelock, a former Gulfport police officer who said he hires former Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets and police SWAT officers to provide personal protection. But even then, "Tampa is not a high-threat area, like in other cities in the U.S. This is not Afghanistan." Though many of those coming to town will hire national security firms, there still will be a boom for locals, said Sugg. In many cases, he said, the national firms will hire local bodyguards. The convention also will mean big business for uniformed guard services, said Rod Reder, a retired Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office captain who owns Reder Investigations. Reder said off-duty law enforcement officers normally provide much of those services, but during the convention, local police and deputies will be working long shifts with their own agencies. "The sheriff and police chief made it clear that off-duty officers are not going to be available for that work,'' he said. "If you want any kind of security, especially in the convention area, you better start calling security companies and booking them." Tampa police said they expect dozens of private security personnel to come into town during the convention. The number of private security personnel used "will be significant," said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. The police want to make the private security part of "our eyes and ears so that if an incident happens near where the private security is working we have a contact person to work together to resolve situations," McElroy said. Clarke and the other security firm executives say they expect the level of trouble in Tampa to be greater than what was seen in Chicago with the NATO summit and more in line with what happened in St. Paul in 2008, when police had to use force to disperse protestors. "The protestors do as much planning as law enforcement," said Clarke. "They have people on the ground ahead of time, scouting, looking around to see the best places where people are congregating." Calling it a "constant dance that goes on," security planners and protestors – particularly groups intent on causing trouble – are trying to outthink each other, Clarke said. Though the security firm executives widely lauded the Secret Service, Tampa Police, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and other agencies involved in planning for the event, Reder said that Tampa will still be in for a shock. "Tampa has had virtually nothing like this," he said. "It will be really interesting and surprise the Bay area when they see police looking like Robocops, with the chin pads and chest pads and helmets, the state-of-the-art stuff to protect officers.'' The security firms say they will take their own special protective measures. Spectrum, for instance, will have teams of at least two security guards – at the cost of about $85 per hour per guard - escorting clients. Not only will bodyguards go into the convention center with the person they're hired to protect, Spectrum's Sugg said, "When Mr. so and so is ready to go to the hairdresser, we will have a person go to the hairdresser, meet the owner, confirm everyone there is a regular, and then let the person go in. And we will have someone there sit inside with them."