ST. PETERSBURG, FL — Increased protection for the LGBTQ community during Pride weekend in St. Petersburg begins Friday, St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Hollow said.
The additional security will include FBI agents, Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents, St. Pete police officers, St. Pete Fire Rescue workers and dispatchers who will monitor Pride activities from the St. Pete Police Command Center, Holloway told reporters Thursday at a news conference.
A Patch reporter at the news conference saw numerous monitoring stations law enforcement agencies would use during Pride inside the command center.
One of the monitors in the St. Pete Police Command Center law enforcement agencies will watch during St. Pete Pride weekend. (Skyla Luckey/Patch)
“We’re also going to keep everyone safe with community support — if you see something, say something,” Holloway said. “We have lots of law enforcement officers out there in uniforms and also in plainclothes. We also have our state, federal and local departments providing protection.”
If someone sees a threat of violence made online toward the local LGBTQ community, call the St. Petersburg Police Department immediately, Holloway said.
A 17-year-0ld boy in Canada was arrested at the beginning of June when West Palm Beach police said he threatened a mass shooting online at Pride on the Block in Palm Beach County. Officers said that multiple agencies worked together and traced the threat to the Canadian teen.
Toronto police took the boy into custody before he could make his threat a reality, police said.
Holloway said everyone has rights under the First Amendment, which is why officials will set up a free speech zone Saturday during the parade. The area allows protesters to wave signs and flags and say what they want, he said.
A map of the St. Pete Pride Parade route is scheduled for Saturday, June 25. (St. Pete Police Department)
Protest activities will be prohibited along the parade route, Holloway said.
“But if you’re going to cause a disturbance or you’re disorderly, then we will take you to jail,” Holloway said in his message to the St. Pete community.
Police did not disclose the exact location of the free speech zone.
The police department’s Skywatch Tower will be set up near Vinoy Park, with multiple cameras showing portions of the parade route for police to monitor.
Police have not heard any threats focused on the LGBTQ community during Pride as of Thursday, Holloway said.
“But all it takes is that one person,” Holloway said. “And that’s who we’re prepared for. We will have all our officers on duty. Those that can work have to be on duty because we still have calls in the city that we’ll have to respond to.”
St. Pete’s bomb-detecting K-9s will clear sensitive security areas, and a marine unit will have boats and other watercraft to monitor the waterfront, police said.
Cars will not be allowed on or off the pier during the parade that starts at 2 p.m.
The parade route starts in the Vinoy area along Bayshore Boulevard Northeast.
It’s best if people find parking in downtown garages during the parade, St. Pete police information Officer Yolanda Fernandez said.
St. Pete Pride is grateful for the support of the St. Pete Police Department and appreciates officers helping to create a safe space to celebrate Pride, Pride President Tiffany Freisberg said at the news conference.
St. Pete Pride weekend was expected to have a record turnout of more than 300,000, following two years of canceled Pride events and limited events, organizers said in a news release. Saturday is the parade’s return after COVID-19 precautions canceled it in 2020 and 2021.
The Pride Parade is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m Saturday. On Friday night, Pride will host a concert featuring Pussy Riot, and Sunday is the Pride Street Carnival.
For more information about these Pride events, visit St. Pete Pride.
Tiffany Razzano contributed to this report.
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