With security looming as a critical priority in Cleveland in advance of next week’s Republican convention, city officials say they’re prepared – including for those who come armed under Ohio’s open carry law.
At the same time, Police Chief Calvin Williams noted the city had changed its security plans in light of last week’s murder of five police officers in Dallas but said he would not elaborate for obvious reasons.
Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association, has complained bitterly for months that everything from riot gear to bikes was ordered late and training for the cops has been insufficient.
With the moment now upon them, Loomis said the rank and file officers who will be at the center of the storm are edgy, but professional. “We’re going to do a great job whether we have the resources and the training that we need or not,” Loomis said.
He also offered this analogy: the convention is like a woman in labor and “that baby is coming whether you are ready or not.”
There have been reports that cooperating municipalities rescinded their offers to contribute police officers because Cleveland did not assure them its insurance policies were adequate.
On Wednesday, city leaders and Cleveland police disputed those accounts, saying as of June 24 they had reached the limit of officers who could come to help with crowd control.
Williams said planning has been exhaustive and “Cleveland is prepared. We invite people to come here enjoy the convention, exercise your constitutional rights and we’re here to assist you in doing that.”
One of those rights is to bear arms and Ohio is an open carry state. That means convention goers and demonstrators may pack heat everywhere but inside the secure zone, where they would be in close proximity to delegates, VIPs and the nominee himself.
“We will follow the law and the law of the state of Ohio is open carry, which means we’ll follow the law. We had open carry things go on in the city before. This however is an entirely different circumstance,” said Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson.
The chairman of the New Black Panther Party – designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center – was quoted by Reuters as saying members will show up in Cleveland armed. "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," Reuters quoted Hashim Nzinga as saying. However, Nzinga later took to twitter and disputed the Reuters report.
The 74 different agencies providing security will be overseen and coordinated by the US Secret Service. “I don’t sleep well to begin with,” said Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy. He added that when there is an event the size of a convention, with all of its tension and dynamics, an emergency is unavoidable.
“Every event has some incident. The key is: do you have a good plan in place? Do you have good leadership that can adapt and be flexible to whatever is thrown your way? And I'm confident that here in Cleveland we have that," Clancy said.