- No known credible threats have been made against the conventions in Cleveland, Ohio and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, although civil unrest remains a concern.
- Heightened security and planned protest activities will likely lead to business and transport disruptions in both host cities.
- The papal visit to Philadelphia in September 2015 has aided in security preparations and training there; Cleveland is working to staff and equip an adequate number of security personnel ahead of the convention.
- The Republican National Convention could prove to be a more divisive event compared to the Democratic National Convention. The location of convention venues in the downtown core and a history of violent demonstrations at campaign events for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump both promise to contribute to disruptions in the city.
The 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC), to be held in Cleveland, Ohio from July 18-21, and the Democratic National Convention (DNC), to be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from July 25-28, have the potential to be controversial and disruptive events. Both of the conventions are designated as National Special Security Events (NSSEs), meaning they could become targets of international/domestic terrorism or other criminal activity. While authorities have not received any credible threats against either convention, law enforcement and emergency personnel are preparing for the likelihood that protests could disrupt business and travel in the host cities. The papal visit to Philadelphia in September 2015 has played an integral role in security preparations for the DNC, and the city is largely considered to be more prepared than Cleveland. Despite this, officials in Cleveland feel confident that outsourced staffing and training programs can adequately address potentially violent protest activities.
Republican National Convention
Introduction to the RNC
Cleveland, Ohio will host the Republican National Convention from July 18-21. The main venue for the convention is the Quicken Loans Arena, and approximately 1,200 ancillary events are planned throughout the city (map).
Location of venue for Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio
Upward of 50,000 people are expected to arrive in Cleveland for the RNC, including delegates, convention staff, media, security officers, and logistics/transportation personnel. RNC attendees require approximately 16,000 hotel rooms, and nearly all accommodations in the Cleveland area are booked for the event. Businesses in downtown Cleveland are encouraged to operate normally during the RNC, though the decision to stay open remains at the discretion of business owners.
RNC Security Preparations
The designation of the RNC as an NSSE allows the US Secret Service (USSS) to serve as the lead agency in charge of designing and implementing the overall security plan for the convention. The USSS is also responsible for protecting high-profile attendees and coordinating motorcade processions throughout Cleveland. Authorities will establish a security zone around the Quicken Loans Arena that encompasses much of the Gateway District, including Progressive Field. The RNC is a closed event, so the public is prohibited from entering the Quicken Loans Arena and the surrounding security zone; only authorized personnel, including delegates, security personnel, and volunteers, may access the area.
The Cleveland Police Department and other law enforcement agencies will oversee security in areas outside of the USSS security zone. An 'event zone' will encompass portions of downtown Cleveland east of the Cuyahoga River and west of Interstate 90. Authorities will prohibit camping and the erection of speaking platforms within the event zone. Individuals in the zone will also be prohibited from carrying a number of items, including air rifles, lasers, water guns, aerosol cans, glass bottles, coolers, or tents; however, individuals who legally own guns are permitted to carry them. The Cleveland Police Department will likely respond to a number of petty crimes in the downtown Cleveland area during the RNC. Convention attendees, supporters of presidential candidate Donald Trump, or individuals perceived to be Trump supporters who are transiting between the security zone and nearby restaurants, bars, and hotels in the downtown area could be targeted verbally or physically by anti-Trump protesters. Crimes such as pickpocketing, assault, and armed robbery will likely occur in areas just outside of the established security zone; these crimes of opportunity are more common at night.
The Cleveland Police Department plans to dedicate approximately 500 local law enforcement officers for RNC security. The department has faced sharp criticism for being underprepared and understaffed; several reforms were instituted following a spate of officer-involved shootings and civil-rights complaints. In light of this, an additional 2,500-2,700 officers from jurisdictions throughout Ohio and the broader US will aid in securing the convention. A few jurisdictions, including police departments in Cincinnati, Ohio and Greensboro, North Carolina reneged on sending police to the RNC due to a perceived lack of preparedness for the event and concerns over workers' compensation insurance for on-duty officers. Despite this, authorities in Cleveland believe the final number of participating officers is sufficient to secure the city during the RNC. A combination of motorcycle, bicycle, canine, and mounted police units will patrol Cleveland over the four-day event; fire, hazmat, and emergency medical services (EMS) will assist as needed. In addition to bodycam footage, a dedicated video unit will document police interactions with protesters. Maritime restrictions are planned for area waterways, and the US Coast Guard will spearhead lakefront and river security. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will also implement flight restrictions over the city.
The city was awarded a USD-50 million grant to prepare for the RNC. Officials used the money to purchase approximately 2,000 units of riot protection gear, security barriers, vehicles, and housing for police officers. Police will undergo extensive training on protection of constitutional rights, crowd and emergency management, intelligence gathering, and mitigation techniques to thwart coordinated attacks. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are participating in training security personnel.
While no credible threats from international or domestic terrorist groups have been made against the RNC, authorities have plans in place in keeping with the high-profile nature of the event. Authorities are preparing on a greater and more visible scale for the possibility of violent protests. Presumptive presidential nominee Trump warned that "riots" are possible if he does not secure the Republican nomination at the convention, but the greater concern is confrontations between pro- and anti-Trump groups. In addition, Ohio's open-carry laws permit individuals to bring guns into the event zone; tensions among protest groups could quickly escalate and require significant police intervention to keep demonstrations peaceful.
The day-to-day operations in the city are expected to continue as normal. Local police are responsible for overseeing traffic flows and routine needs of the city during the RNC. Traffic disruptions will likely be the greatest in the days leading up to the convention as attendees and staff arrive in Cleveland. The timing and route of motorcades will vary, though authorities believe that most RNC-related traffic congestion will occur between 1500-1900 during the convention days. Convention attendees will likely use public transportation and ride-sharing services; the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) plans to run enhanced service schedules on all modes of transport, including rail, bus, and trolleys.
Estimates indicate that over 40,000 protesters could use the RNC to voice opinions on a number of political issues. Tensions between groups either supporting or opposing Trump have been growing since early 2016. Demonstrations at a campaign stop in Anaheim, California, on May 25 resulted in a number of arrests after protesters pelted police with rocks. Larger clashes broke out during a Trump rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico on May 24 when anti-Trump activists attempted to breach police security and enter the rally venue. Protesters threw rocks and bottles at police officers and began burning debris, prompting law enforcement officers to deploy smoke canisters to disperse the unruly crowd.
Police are planning to balance security with the constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech; however, authorities stated they will have zero tolerance for demonstrators who break the law. In preparation for a large number of demonstrations, the city of Cleveland purchased USD 10 million in 'protest insurance' to cover the potential cost of lawsuits against police actions. City officials began accepting permit applications from organized protest groups who plan to stage demonstrations during the RNC.
A number of protest restrictions planned by the city - including authorized protest zones and a designated march route and times - were found unconstitutional by a district judge. In light of this, a new parade route was established that runs along the Lorain/Carnegie Bridge, Carnegie Avenue, and Ontario Street; the route will terminate at East 14th Street. Street marches will occur 1400-1600 July 18 and 0830-1330 July 19-21. Protest groups could also rally at public parks throughout Cleveland, including Willard Park, Perk Plaza, Edgewater Park, Fairview Park, Voinovich Park, Settlers Landing Park, and Public Square.
Likely protest sites in Cleveland during the RNC
Police plan to monitor such demonstrations and will intervene only if they identify a risk to public safety. In the event of large-scale arrests, the Cleveland Police Department contracted with county jails in northern Ohio to guarantee that adequate capacity and booking/processing resources are available.
As of mid-June, over 30 groups have submitted permit applications to hold demonstrations during the RNC. A majority of the protesters are expected to demonstrate alongside anti-Trump groups, including Stand Together Against Trump, Coalition to Stop Trump, and the Coalition to March on RNC and Dump Trump. Organizers predict that tens of thousands of participants will join in rallies and marches July 18-21. A group named Citizens for Trump - an umbrella group for Trump supporters - is expecting thousands of participants to march in downtown Cleveland. Organizers are hoping to hold the demonstration before the convention begins to reduce the potential for conflict. A group of approximately 30 far-right activists have stated that they will participate in pro-Trump rallies. The group - who plan provide 'protection' to Trump supporters during the RNC - participated in violent protests in Sacramento, California in late June. Although authorities have gone on record stating that security provisions should prevent widespread violence, police are nonetheless preparing for the likelihood of clashes between left- and right-wing demonstrators.
In addition to both pro- and anti-Trump protests, other groups plan to demonstrate against poverty, racism, police brutality, war, and nuclear weapons. Groups such as Global Zero, End Poverty Now, March Against Racism, Organize! Ohio, and Westboro Baptist Church could bring thousands of additional protesters to Cleveland.
Democratic National Convention
Introduction to the DNC
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania will host the Democratic National Convention July 25-28. The Wells Fargo Center will serve as the primary venue for the convention, with public events held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and other locales across the city (map).
Location of venue for Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa.
Similar to the RNC in Cleveland, authorities are planning for upward of 50,000 people to arrive in Philadelphia for the convention. Planning for the DNC began shortly after Pope Francis' visit in September 2015; both events are categorized as NSSEs, though officials believe the overall security footprint and associated disruptions will be smaller in scale for the DNC. In addition to the resources and training given to law enforcement ahead of the papal visit, Philadelphia will also benefit from having hosted an RNC in 2000. Many officials that organized security, logistics, and transportation for the convention in 2000 are aiding in preparations for the upcoming DNC.
DNC Security Preparations
As a precaution, authorities are not planning to release details on security arrangements for the DNC until shortly before the event begins. Since it is designated as an NSSE, the planning and implementation of security for the convention falls under USSS purview. The Philadelphia Police Department, Pennsylvania State Police, the FBI, and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will provide support. Authorities have yet to release details on the perimeter of the security zone around the Wells Fargo Center, though officials believe that the area will also include the Xfinity Live! building in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex. In addition, parts of South Broad Street, Pattison Avenue, and North 11th Street are likely to fall within the security zone.
While police have access to equipment from the papal visit, the city received a USD-43 million grant to purchase additional supplies, conduct training, and pay security personnel. A combination of police, fire, and medical personnel will coordinate interagency efforts from the city's Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Extensive 'no-scale' fencing will secure the outside perimeter around the Wells Fargo Center; checkpoints are also planned around the restricted zone, and only delegates, staff, security, and medical personnel will be permitted entry.
Similar to Cleveland, convention attendees and travelers in Philadelphia could become victims of petty crime near DNC-designated venues, particularly individuals leaving the Pennsylvania Convention Center or the established security zone around the Wells Fargo Center for ancillary events at nearby restaurants and hotels. Thieves could target individuals perceived to be attending the convention for crimes of opportunity, such as pickpocketing, purse-snatching, and assault. Local police are responsible for overseeing security and responding to such crimes in the vicinity of the South Philadelphia Sports Complex security zone. According to officials in Philadelphia, all police and emergency personnel supervising the DNC are fully trained on monitoring and using crowd suppression equipment. In addition, security forces have undergone counterterrorism training to detect extraordinary scenarios in the surrounding environment.
Like the RNC, authorities in Philadelphia have not received any specific or credible threats made against the upcoming convention. Federal agencies such as the FBI and DHS will continue to monitor for any potential threats as the event approaches. The biggest threat to the Philadelphia area during the convention is violent civil unrest. The Democratic race has largely remained peaceful in terms of protest actions. Though some events have become heated, the level of violence displayed by activist groups is minimal when compared to demonstrations at Republican events. Despite this, security disturbances remain possible. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has decided to stay in the race despite failing to obtain the number of delegates required to secure the nomination. Because of this, a number of pro-Sanders groups are planning to attend the convention to contest the likely nomination of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Officials in Philadelphia believe the DNC will cause minimal disruptions when compared to the recent Papal visit. Businesses in the area are being encouraged to remain open during the event; many residents and businesses left the city during Pope Francis' visit in September due to citywide security zones and road closures. Most activities related to the DNC will occur in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, and major transport disruptions will largely take place in the surrounding area. While the exact location of the security zone surrounding the Wells Fargo Center has yet to be determined, intermittent road closures are likely along South Broad Street, Pattison Avenue, North 11th Street, and I-95 due to motorcades and delegate movement. Most events at the Wells Fargo Center begin in the evening, which will likely lessen the impact on rush-hour traffic in the area.
Organizers are planning to transport delegates to DNC venues via 400 buses. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) lines, particularly the Broad Street Line, will likely experience overcrowding when visitors are not participating in convention events.
City officials have begun approving a number of protest applications from activist groups planning to hold demonstrations during the DNC. Authorities are preparing for up to 40,000 people to rally across the city; a majority of the groups seeking to demonstrate are Bernie Sanders supporters. In preparation for the convention, police are obtaining law enforcement liability insurance - similar to coverage purchased by police in Cleveland - to cover claims of police brutality and civil rights abuses. Authorities are hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2000 RNC, during which police arrested approximately 400 people for minor violations. During the DNC, officers are permitted to issue USD 100 in civil fines in lieu of making criminal arrests for crimes such as disorderly conduct, blocking streets, and failing to disperse.
Philadelphia has not established strict protest zones, though a significant number of groups will demonstrate at FDR Park, Thomas Paine Plaza, and City Hall. March routes between City Hall and Independence Mall have been approved, though the city denied permits for groups wishing to march down Broad Street to the Wells Fargo Center. Despite this, some groups are planning to march along the street anyway.
Likely protest sites in Philadelphia during the DNC
Three approved pro-Sanders demonstrations by March for Bernie at DNC, Occupy DNC, and March on the DNC are not officially affiliated with the Sanders campaign, but have nonetheless attracted a large support base. Tens of thousands of individuals are projected to attend rallies at FDR Park from July 24-28. A fourth pro-Sanders demonstration is being arranged by Black Men for Bernie at Thomas Paine Plaza July 27-28. While a majority of the protesters are expected to be Sanders supporters, additional activist groups are set to stage rallies, including Black Lives Matter affiliates, clean energy groups, and anti-poverty groups. Smaller rallies planned during the DNC include Food + Water Watch, Global Zero, Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, and Black DNC Resistance March against Police Terror.
Further divisive political rhetoric and controversial social issues - such as cases of perceived police brutality - have the potential to exacerbate already-heated tensions as the RNC and DNC approach. Both host cities are preparing for the possibility of civil unrest, though the most volatile demonstrations will likely take place in Cleveland. Forthcoming iJET intelligence reports will be released as the conventions draw nearer with updates on security zones, road closures, and likely business/transport disruptions.