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NPPA General Counsel Helps Keep RNC Journalist-Friendly

August 29th, 2012 by Justice Warren and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor speaks to media prior to a protest march at the Republican National Convention Photo by Mickey H. Osterreicher

Despite fears from some in the media that law enforcement at the Republican National Convention (RNC) would take a combative approach against protestors and journalists, the first three days of the convention have proven to be rather benign, with no reported interference with or arrests of members of the media.

Thanks in part to training programs implemented by Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), law enforcement at the convention in Tampa have attained a better grasp of the balance between the need to protect the public safety with the First Amendment rights of the press.  It was Osterreicher’s hope that the training would help officers better understand those stakes when interacting with journalists at the convention.

“I think it is a combination of a number of factors, from low protester turnout to the threat of a hurricane in Tampa, along with the fact that law enforcement officials were very receptive to training that has contributed very peaceful demonstrations so far,” Osterreicher said.  “I also commend all the officers from various departments around the state for their very  professional, friendly and helpful attitude toward everyone they encounter, especially the press.”

Osterreicher said he reached out to the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office back in February to offer training that would help officers prepare for the August convention.  The law enforcement offices accepted, and Osterreicher held a training session in April during which he highlighted common First Amendment rights violations officers can make when dealing with journalists.  Osterreicher said he commends Tampa law enforcement for agreeing to the training sessions and that he was happy for the opportunity to provide it.

“Leadership comes from the top and Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor and Hillsboro County Sheriff David Gee have been in the forefront not only in fully embracing and supporting the training but in being out on the street with their officers, protesters and media on a daily basis,” Osterreicher said.

Hillsboro County Sheriff David Gee does a “liveshot” via Skype at the scene of police protester confrontation near the Tampa Convention Center during the Republican National Convention. Photo by Mickey H. Osterreicher.

Mauricio Rodriguez, assistant city attorney for Tampa, said that he was pleased by the way officers and protestors have handled themselves to this point during the RNC.  Rodriguez said that the city being proactive and communicating with protestors and the press has helped to keep the waters calm during the hurricane-blighted convention.

That sentiment was shared by Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Larry McKinnon, who said that his office values First Amendment rights and works to keep officers informed of how to deal with protestors and the media.

“We’ll never arrest a protestor,” McKinnon said.  “We’ll only arrest people breaking the law who happen to be protestors.  We encourage the right to protest so long as you’re obeying the law.”

McKinnon credits the NPPA for helping to prepare Tampa law enforcement for the event.  McKinnon notes that in chaotic times officers will not always be perfect, but that the goal of the sheriff’s office is to make sure that mistakes are corrected so everything runs smoothly.

“The NPPA didn’t come down here saying you better do it this way or else,” McKinnon said.  “Mickey knows it’s not gonna be perfect, but that if there was an issue then it would be resolved the best way possible.”

After a 2008 convention season that saw scores of arrests of protestors and journalists during clashes with police, spokeswoman Laura McElroy of the Tampa Police Department said that the department has been excited that there have been few issues to date.  She credits the NPPA for helping to not only train officers but keeping the media in the know for the convention.

“There is a big disparity between what the officers expect and what the media expect at events like these,” McElroy said.  “We are trying to bridge that disparity.”

The RNC concludes on Thursday.  RNC organizers are still preparing contingency plans in the event that Hurricane Isaac derails planned events for the last day of the convention.  The Democratic National Convention, which is hosted in Charlotte, N.C., will take place from Sep. 4-6 and NPPA will be there as well.

 

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