Miami Police Department to recruit security help for hemispheric trade conferences
By Susan Stabley
The Miami Police Department will use law-enforcement agencies from throughout South Florida to secure the Americas Business Forum and its related free-trade ministerial meetings.
From 2,000 to 5,000 participants and press are expected, based on the most recent meeting, in Quito, Ecuador, and the anticipated attraction of Miami as a destination. In addition, thousands of anti-globalization protesters are expected to come to the area, and some officials fear unruly demonstrations like those seen during a 1999 World Trade Organization gathering in Seattle.
"We are studying all these so we don't make the same mistakes," said Miami Police Department Commander Robert Reed.
The back-to-back events are critical to Miami's bid for the home base, or secretariat, of the Free Trade Area of the Americas - which would eliminate quotas and tariffs across the Western Hemisphere except Cuba. With the city in the spotlight, it is critical for these events - seen as a precursor to establishing the FTAA - to run smoothly.
The business forum will begin Nov. 17 at the James L. Knight Center, and the related ministerial meetings will follow Nov. 20 and 21 at Intercontinental Miami.
How many will come to oppose free trade is not known. Miami police are gathering information from demonstration permit requests and from the Internet, where much of the anti-FTAA movement is organized.
At least one group has requested use of Bayfront Amphitheater for a rally Nov. 19-20, police said.
Capt. Thomas Cannon, leading much of the security coordination for the events, said law-enforcement staff would number in the hundreds and would include city, county, state and federal authorities. Assistance has been confirmed from police forces in Miami-Dade County, Coral Gables and Hialeah. Mr. Cannon also expects confirmation from Miami Beach and the Broward County Sheriff's Office.
Marine security also will be used because both event sites are near the Miami River, he said.
"The river helps us out tremendously," Mr. Cannon said, because it serves as an environmental barrier to protesters.
Area police are mum on details about what will be done to prepare for protesters and where roads will be blocked.
"We are dealing with very intelligent people who are protesting who will use anything we announce as tactics against us," said Mr. Reed.
Barricades and possibly fencing will be used. The Brickell Avenue Bridge will be closed during some events. Uniformed police will be assigned to Brickell Avenue, as visitors connected to the meetings may be staying at hotels along the corridor.
Most information will be given to downtown businesses about three or four weeks before the events and will also be spread through groups like the Downtown Development Authority and the Downtown Miami Partnership, he said.
Mr. Reed said they would copy and expand the approach they used in informing area businesses about street closures and other complications for last fall's Grand Prix Americas downtown race. The Grand Prix affected access to neighboring businesses, and the trade meetings will be complicated by the "element of protest," he said.
Organizers are working with a proposed budget of $11 million for the November events - with more than half set aside for security.