As Cleveland Hits the Home Stretch Before the RNC, the City Reveals Few Security Details

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"It's easy to mock Trump for his thin-skinned fixation on the size of his audiences, but that misses a deeper point," Osnos wrote. "You can't have a riot without a mob. Even before he was a candidate, Trump displayed a rare gift for cultivating the dark power of a crowd."

In the other corner, tasked with defusing that dark power, will stand all 1,500 of Cleveland's finest, and as many as 3,500 additional officers on loan from suburban, county, state and other cities' departments.

Cleveland's safety department brass (safety director Michael McGrath, police chief Calvin Williams, deputy chief Ed Tomba, assistant safety director Ed Eckert, and brand-new EMS commissioner Nicole Carlton, the first woman to hold the job) took turns answering questions at the RNC city council briefing. They provided updates related to equipment procurement and personnel.

McGrath stated once again that staffing in Cleveland's neighborhoods during the convention would be at a 115-percent level. They'll be operating at maximum capacity and have forbidden vacation days during the convention.   

Williams said that he and Tomba traveled to Washington, D.C., the previous week to observe a nuclear summit attended by many of the world's top leaders. It was a National Security Special Event (NSSE), with security protocols similar to the RNC, and seeing the event in action was important for the police leadership, he said.

Tomba said that he has personally undergone an extensive tabletop exercise that simulated a series of emergency events, and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has trained 670-plus officers on tactics related to crowd control, dignitary protection and traffic flow. Because the Secret Service is responsible for security inside the perimeter, Cleveland police's primary obligations ­— its two "missions" — will be the safety of residents and traffic flow.

Both Williams and Tomba took pains to assure council that the equipment Cleveland is purchasing with a $50 million federal grant will be used long after the convention itself. Though Tomba said the city will have "resources" at its disposal during the convention, the Cleveland police will not become a militarized force.

That's heartening news. The Marshall Project, a new media outlet focused on the criminal justice system, noted in a report last week that Cleveland's would be the first division of police to take on a major party convention while operating under federal oversight. (It also noted that while Cleveland won't purchase equipment to make its officers appear militarized, Cleveland is asking Illinois to loan three BearCats, military-style armored vehicles, and the trained officers needed to operate them. The Illinois Law Enforcement System has yet to decide if they will.)

Though the Consent Decree Monitoring Team, led by PARC's Matthew Barge, isn't assisting in RNC prep — its role is to monitor the division's compliance over time — it will be on the ground, keeping tabs during the convention.

"On a number of fronts," Barge wrote Scene in an email, "the Division will — simply by virtue of the timing of the Convention — be operating according to policies and procedures that have not yet been addressed by the Consent Decree process."

Barge noted that crowd-management environment can be "particularly challenging" to departments and that conventions of the RNC's size and scope pose "unique operational realities, even among departments that routinely handle them."

As such, he'll be watching closely. He said that he and the members of the monitoring team will be "monitoring any situations that might unfold that implicate the use of force, internal and citizen's complaint investigations, bias-free policing, supervision, or other Consent Decree issues." Real-time feedback would be a welcome change from how the department had been allowed to operate before the decree.

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