Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, said he had concerns about the safety of officers at the upcoming Republican National Convention on CNN’s Smerconish on Saturday. In response to a question about guns being allowed near the convention, Loomis said, “That’s absolute insanity to me… My concern is for the uniformed member that is out there. They are going to be out there in the trenches.”
Guns will not be permitted inside the Quicken Loans Arena and areas monitored by the Secret Service, but protesters coming to Cleveland will be allowed to carry guns due to the state’s open-carry laws. Items such as water guns, knives, canned food, and even tennis balls will not be allowed near the arena, however. As many as 50,000 people are expected to come to the convention area. There will be about 3,000 law enforcement officers at the convention — the same number of officers expected to be at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia later this month.
Earlier this week, Cleveland officials affirmed that regardless of their personal beliefs on open carry, the law will apply to protesters coming to Cleveland for the convention.
Some groups have already said they plan to carry weapons to the event. The New Black Panther Party and the Oath Keepers, who are former members of the military, say they will carry weapons to the area. In an interview with Reuters, Hashim Nzinga, chairman of the New Black Panther Party said, “If it is an open state to carry, we will exercise our Second Amendment rights because there are other groups threatening to be there that are threatening to do harm to us.”
Adding to the peacekeeping challenges: The Cleveland Division of Police is the first to handle a presidential nominating convention while under federal government oversight. According to the Marshall Project:
The Justice Department has twice probed Cleveland’s problematic policing culture. Twelve years ago, Cleveland police agreed to a series of voluntary reforms to temper overly aggressive officers. But the complaints continued, and in 2013, Justice Department lawyers returned to the Ohio city and spent nearly two years building a new case against Cleveland cops.
Officers were cited for frequent and unnecessary use of their guns, for firing when no life-threatening circumstances existed, and getting into unnecessary altercations with suspects during arrests. In addition, police supervisors were noted for covering up reports of physical force by failing to fill out the proper paperwork. City and federal officials signed a 105-page consent decree in May.
Nearly half of Republican political activists, strategists, and other insiders say they think violence is likely at the GOP convention in Cleveland, according to a new Politico poll. One of the Republicans surveyed said it wasn’t matter of whether violence would happen but how severe the violence would be, according to Politico. “Given the tenor of the campaign trail so far this year, coupled with rising social unrest, it is bound to spill over… It’s really more a matter of how bad it will get.”
Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent, was more optimistic about safety at the convention.
“So what I think is really important today is for everyone to understand that there is a very comprehensive multi-layered security protocol that’s going in place in Cleveland right now… I think right now it’s taking that comprehensive plan and now executing it with our partners such as the Cleveland Police Department,” Wackrow said on Smerconish.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the press he planned to visit Cleveland on Friday to take a close look at security there. Johnson said in a hearing held by the House Homeland Security Committee, “I am concerned about the prospects of protests getting out of hand… I am concerned about the possibility of violence.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, a staunch advocate for gun rights, vowed that he would get rid of “gun-free zones” at an annual meeting for the National Rifle Association held this spring in Louisville, Kentucky. The convention center he spoke at for the annual meeting for the NRA as well as all of Trump’s hotels are gun-free zones.