St. Pete police plan ‘all hands on deck’ effort to keep Pride events safe, chief says

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ST. PETERSBURG — The St. Petersburg Police Department is gearing up for an “all hands on deck” effort to provide security during this weekend’s Pride festivities, Chief Anthony Holloway said Thursday.

All officers’ vacation days this weekend have been canceled so they can help with security for the events along with other calls throughout the city, Holloway said at a news conference held at police headquarters. The agency’s Emergency Operations Center will activate Friday, with local, state and federal law enforcement, along with the city’s fire rescue department, operating out of police headquarters to monitor for safety and security.

“As of right now, there (are) no threats for the three-day event, but we will continue to monitor any intel that comes in or any tips that we get,” Holloway said.

A marine unit will also patrol the waters near downtown, and the department will also deploy its bomb-detecting K-9 unit.

Civil rights organizations, Pride event organizers and members of the LGBTQ+ community nationwide have expressed concerns about the rise in homophobic violence from far-right extremists, particularly at Pride events. In Idaho, members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front attempted to disrupt a Pride event. Far-right extremist groups have also shown up to drag queen storytelling and brunch events across the nation this year to threaten those in attendance.

Civil rights advocates say the violence is connected to an uptick in hate speech from right-wing politicians and pundits, from calls to execute LGBTQ+ people to comparing them to “groomers” — rhetoric used by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw.

Yet police presence at Pride has also remained controversial throughout the years. The Stonewall Riots, which lead to the eventual creation of Pride, were initially a series of protests against police who raided a gay bar in New York City.

Holloway declined to say how many officers would be present at Pride this weekend, but he told reporters that both law enforcement in uniforms and plainclothes detectives would be present throughout the events. Police will also monitor Pride through additional cameras throughout the city.

As in past years, there will also be a designated “free speech zone” near the Pride parade and festival where people can protest the events, Holloway said. He said the police department will not tolerate any disturbances.

“If you’re going to cause a disturbance where you’re disorderly or ... a fight or anything, we will take you to jail,” Holloway said.

Organizers expect Saturday’s parade to draw more than the 260,000 attendees who went to the parade in 2019. The Pier will close to vehicle traffic starting at 2 p.m. Saturday for the parade, Holloway said. He encouraged the public to move cars out of the Pier parking lot prior to the start of the event to avoid getting stuck there.

Central Avenue will also close from 22nd Street N to 31st Street N for the Pride Street Carnival, which runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Holloway encouraged members of the public to report any suspicious incidents to the police, including any threats made in person or online.

“This is a safe event, it’s been happening for 20 years,” Holloway said. “We want to continue to make sure it’s safe, and the only way we’re going to do that is also, again, by having our community support that if you see something, say something, do something.”

To report an incident to the St. Petersburg Police Department, call 911 or text tip411 (847411).