Cleveland Readies For Protests Ahead Of Potentially Volatile GOP Convention The city's police are buying riot gear and bringing in officers from other cities to prepare for a political convention that could draw protesters from across the political spectrum.
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Cleveland Readies For Protests Ahead Of Potentially Volatile GOP Convention

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Cleveland Readies For Protests Ahead Of Potentially Volatile GOP Convention

Cleveland Readies For Protests Ahead Of Potentially Volatile GOP Convention

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Political conventions always draw protesters, but the organizers of this year's Republican National Convention may have more to worry about than usual given the shoving matches and thrown punches at some Donald Trump rallies. Trump himself has mentioned the possibility of riots if he doesn't get the nomination. Nick Castele of member station WCPN reports on how the city of Cleveland is preparing for July.

NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: The city and the Secret Service are saying next to nothing about their security plans except to assure the public that the event will be safe. Cleveland's 1,500-person police force will be working 12-hour shifts. Another 2,500 officers are expected here from neighboring departments and out-of-state. City Council Safety Committee Chair Matt Zone says he's confident police will offer protection while allowing people to voice their opinions.

MATT ZONE: But we're not going to allow people to hurt individuals or hurt property. That's not going to be accepted and it's going to be dealt with accordingly.

CASTELE: Cleveland and DNC host Philadelphia have both received $50 million each in federal security grants. A chunk of that money pays for those out-of-town police and Cleveland officials also plan to buy equipment.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JACQUELINE GREEN: On March 3, 2016, we were dismayed to learn through media reports that the city plans to purchase 2,000 sets of riot gear including collapsible steel batons.

CASTELE: Jacqueline Green is with the Ohio branch of the National Lawyers Guild and spoke with other civil rights activists at a press conference this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

GREEN: We collectively call for the following - one, the immediate release of the entire list of equipment to be purchased for the RNC.

CASTELE: Adding to their concern is this - Cleveland police are in their first year of a federal consent decree after the Justice Department found a pattern and practice of excessive force. Cleveland has seen numerous nonviolent protests over shootings by police. Last year, after an officer was acquitted of manslaughter charges, police arrested about 70 demonstrators after cornering them in an alley. Many were held over the weekend. Cleveland faced a lawsuit and agreed to a new mass-arrest procedure. That experience doesn't sit well with local NAACP President Michael Nelson.

MICHAEL NELSON: And if you're going to abuse the Constitution in that way on an easy matter then what are you going to do when things get serious like they may get with protests around this Republican National Convention?

CASTELE: The police union is also worried. Its president says the gear isn't getting here soon enough for officers to spend several months training with it. It's not uncommon for host cities to buy such equipment, says former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor. She led the department when Tampa hosted the 2012 RNC.

JANE CASTOR: You have to prepare for the worst. And, you know, if you don't use that equipment, that's great.

CASTELE: Castor says she made sure officers were trained to de-escalate situations. She says she didn't want to send police out in full riot gear to confront protesters.

CASTOR: That sends a message that there's an expectation of trouble, and that's not what we expected. We met with everyone, we set the ground rules and we expected everybody to abide by those.

CASTELE: In addition to police meetings with activists, there was also a tropical storm that likely dampened enthusiasm for big outdoor protests. But Castor says the temperature of this election could present Cleveland with a different set of challenges than Tampa faced.

CASTOR: I believe that Cleveland is going to have a much more difficult time than we had down here in Tampa for a number of reasons, but the most apparent is just the volatility in this election process.

CASTELE: For now officials are staying very quiet about their plans. When asked for comment, a Secret Service spokesman kept it brief, saying this is going to be a secure event. For NPR News, I'm Nick Castele in Cleveland.

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