Tampa, FL -- Whether you agree or disagree doesn't matter.
If you’re a cop assigned to work a protest you've got a job to do, and in Tampa – where protesters are demonstrating against the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential election, the Tampa Police Department is in charge of safeguarding those protestors, the public, and themselves, too.
Long before gearing up, there’s a lot of work training that goes into avoiding conflict.
These days, police have to be increasingly concerned about protecting themselves as well.
How did they do that in Tampa? By communicating with the very people who you think they'd be most at odds with.
“We deal with people that are volatile at times. People at their worst emotions. And people that are very vulnerable,” said Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin.
Officers know people are upset.
“And as long as they're not breaking the law we’ll actually help them achieve what they want to achieve,” said Hamlin.
That may mean agreeing to limits, like marching – but not on the highway. Sitting in protest, but not in front of a person’s place of business.
Doing the job comes against a backdrop of uncertainty. More than 50 police officers have been killed this year. Two were ambushed last week in Iowa. Two more shot Thursday morning near Pittsburgh.
Tampa cops don’t see themselves as adversaries here, but they know the perception of that can change quickly if things escalate.
“We know we are in a dangerous profession. We are in it for the right reason. It's a vocation, I'll calling more so than a job,” said Hamlin. “And if you are scared about getting hurt or getting killed then you are in the wrong profession.”
To minimize tension and risk, Tampa police work with protestors by communicating with protest leaders and organizers ahead of the demonstration.
“By engaging in that dialogue, treating people the way they want to be treated, in turn, hopefully, they treat us the same way and we avoid conflict,” said Hamlin.
At about that same time as Thursday night’s protests, some of the top brass of the Tampa police was planning to meet with community leaders and open lines of communication.
Respect. Getting to know each other by name. It’s how to avoid conflict when events like this happen, said Hamlin.
“We always try to keep ourselves safe. We teach safety. We have protective equipment. And we teach tactics. To keep us safe at all times.”