TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tampa police said Tuesday that they confiscated pipes, bricks and other "suspicious" items from the rooftop of a downtown building located about a mile from where next week's Republican National Convention will be held.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said she believes the items were put there by protesters for use during RNC demonstrations. She added that some RNC-related graffiti was also found at the building, but wouldn't elaborate.
"It is disconcerting but it's not surprising," she said. "This is normally how things proceed leading up to a large event."
Tampa will host the RNC at a downtown stadium from Aug. 27-30.
Police have been preparing for the event for nearly two years. Castor said she's studied other protests surrounding political events, most notably the RNC in St. Paul in 2008, where authorities were taken by surprise by an active minority of demonstrators who smashed cars, punctured tires and threw bottles in a confrontation with pepper-spray-wielding police. Hundreds were arrested over a few days, including dozens of journalists.
Castor said she is determined not to preside over a repeat of St. Paul.
Within the past two weeks, downtown Tampa has changed from a slightly sleepy urban core to a patchwork of barricades, gates and even boarded-up windows. Many federal, state and local buildings are surrounded by barricades because Castor said that some protesters — especially anarchists — are known to target government property.
Congress has given Tampa — and Charlotte, N.C., the location of the Democratic National Convention — $50 million each in taxpayer money to try to ensure everyone's safety during the political gatherings that crown each party's presidential candidate every four years.
Tampa police have spent about $13.6 million so far on big-ticket security items, including 200 bicycles, 13 electric all-terrain vehicles and one armored truck.
The city said it has tried to accommodate protesters by creating protest zones and parade routes for those wishing to express their opinions, and officials have met with protesters and held meetings with the American Civil Liberties Union over the past several months.
"The vast majority of individuals coming to the Tampa Bay area to demonstrate will do it peacefully," Castor said.
Only a handful of groups has signed up for time slots on the official parade route during the four-day convention, however, leaving some to wonder whether protesters are organizing alternate demonstrations in other areas.
Tamara Lush can be reached at http://twitter.com/tamaralush