Convene visited Cleveland two weeks ago to see how the city is preparing for the approximately 50,000 visitors to the Republican National Convention, which opens today at Quicken Loans Arena.
Cleveland received a $50-million federal security grant to ensure things run smoothly while the GOP is in town. Kirsten Kukowski, communications director of the Republican Committee on Arrangements (COA), the body responsible for the logistics of the convention, broke down how law-enforcement officials from different jurisdictions will coordinate their efforts. “We have a security team, and they are former Secret Service agents,” she said on July 6 from COA’s downtown Cleveland headquarters. “They interface with the Secret Service, the city of Cleveland, and the Ohio State Highway Patrol.”
Last Tuesday, the Cleveland Police Department and the Secret Service held a press conference at the downtown Multi-Agency Communications Center (MACC) during which they went into some detail on convention security. “There is no specific, credible threat related to the RNC,” U.S. Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy said during the briefing. Cleveland Chief of Police Calvin Williams shared details of how many officers will be deployed to various zones around the convention center, and stressed that they had “drilled and drilled” ahead of the event.
Security around nominee presumptive Donald Trump is handled by the Secret Service, which will set up a secure perimeter around his team’s Cleveland home base. “We may never know where he stays. That’s all part of the Secret Service plan,” said Michael Burns, senior vice president of convention sales and services for Destination Cleveland. “The big questions asked early were – and people just beat this to death – ‘Am I going to be in a secure perimeter?’ I said, ‘Well, we don’t know.’ ‘When are they going to announce that?’ I have to say to them, ‘At the last minute. That’s why they call it a secure perimeter.’”
Law enforcement is looking to the community to aid policing efforts. A public tip line went live a week ahead of schedule in the wake of several high-profile shootings and instances of domestic and international terrorism in the weeks leading up to the convention. The Atlantic’s City Lab has reported that law-enforcement officials have even reached out to Cleveland’s homeless community to ask them to be on the lookout for suspicious people or activity.
In the months leading up to the convention, locals were briefed on security measures at several town-hall-style meetings. “There’s actually an official committee of the Secret Service for this,” said David Gilbert, president of the non-partisan 2016 Cleveland Host Committee, when I spoke to him in his downtown Cleveland office. “They invited any downtown business owner to come. Usually there were 200 to 300 people at every one. They gave out all their plans, they gave out their email addresses, and they even talked to everybody individually. As they’ve put it – and I love the way that they said it – ‘It’s business as usual in an unusual manner. Nobody’s going to be closed.’”
PREPARING FOR PROTESTERS
Ohio is an open-carry state, and while items as diverse as swords, axes, and brass knuckles are banned from the special event zone – a secure area where demonstrators cannot speak or hold parades – guns are permitted. The arena itself has a strict anti-weapons policy that prohibits firearms.
City, state, and federal officials are well aware of the impact protesters could have on the convention, especially since on June 23 a federal judge ruled that the special event zone was “unduly large.” Following the decision, protesters will be able to gather much closer to the Quicken Loans Arena than early plans had called for.
Last week the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Police Department jointly published an 18-page list of groups with permits to protest. These run the gamut from Stand Together Against Trump, who expect around 5,000 people will attend each of two marches and rallies, to Food Not Bombs, to the Westboro Baptist Church, to the American Friends Service Committee of Northeast Ohio.