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Cleveland Preps For Partying And Protests During Republican National Convention

A sign welcomes visitors in downtown Cleveland days before the city hosts the Republican National Convention.

Since winning the Republican National Convention in 2014, Cleveland has refurbished its Public Square, fixed up downtown streets and finished construction on a $270 million taxpayer-funded hotel.

Now it's showtime.

This week, the RNC's 2,000-plus delegates—along with their staffs, tens of thousands of journalists and untold numbers of demonstrators—will crowd into Northeast Ohio to see Donald Trump accept the Republican nomination for president.

Local and federal authorities say they are prepared to protect the convention, and that there is no specific, credible threat against the event. But the killings of five police officers by a gunman in Dallas had led police to take stock of their security preparations, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said.

"Any time something happens around the country, especially something as violent as Dallas, as tragic as Dallas," Williams said at a recent news conference, "it causes all of law enforcement, it causes all of this country, to kind of step back, take a look at what we're doing and how we're doing it, to make sure that we do everything possible to ensure that a situation like that does not occur again."

Cleveland Buys Police Gear

The city received $50 million from the federal government to spend on security. Much of that money will help pay to bring in an estimated 2,500 out-of-town police officers.

The city is also using the funds to stock up on gear for police. Cleveland requested bids for 2,000 sets of riot gear and steel batons, flexible plastic handcuffs, prisoner transport vans, bicycles, metal barricades and other equipment.

In addition, the city will pay a $9.5 million fee for a special insurance policy that it describes as necessary for "equipment and property providing law enforcement, safety and security services, and housing, feeding and training law enforcement personnel" helping with the convention.

Guns OK Within Event Zone; Tennis Balls Banned

Much of downtown Cleveland is inside what officials have termed the "event zone," where there are special restrictions.

The size of the zone and the lengthy police shopping list left many civil liberties advocates uneasy.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city on behalf of Citizens for Trump, the progressive group Organize Ohio and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. The subsequent settlement slimmed down the event zone and extended the approved demonstration route, which takes protesters across a bridge and beneath a highway near the convention area.

Numerous items will be banned within the zone. A partial list includes gas masks, water guns, canned goods, BB guns, lumber and metal pipes, tennis balls, lasers, grappling hooks and ladders.

Guns, however, won't be banned because Ohio law permits the open carrying of firearms. Local gun rights groups and even some Republican delegates say they plan to come to Cleveland bearing arms.

While the Secret Service won't allow weapons inside Quicken Loans Arena and the space immediately surrounding it, police say they can't prohibit firearms in the broader event zone outside the convention area.

"We've had open carry in the downtown neighborhood in the past, and we'll take care of that in the way we've always done," Williams, the police chief, said at a recent news conference. "People in this state have a right to open carry."

Street-side parking is banned throughout downtown Cleveland, and several roads will be closed. A downtown portion of Interstate 90, which runs through the heart of the city, will be shut down at night.

Preparing for Arrests

There's no telling just how many people might end up in handcuffs during the convention.

But Cleveland Municipal Court is preparing to stay open 20 hours a day to process arrested demonstrators, according to court spokesman Ed Ferenc. A dozen judges will work 10-hour shifts, he said.

"We're gearing up to try to be able to handle as many as 1,000 people a day coming through our doors," Judge Ronald Adrine said earlier this year. "We're hoping we don't have to do that."

Public defenders and civil rights attorneys have also been preparing to provide demonstrators with legal representation.

Police and city officials promise they're ready, and tell locals that things won't be too seriously interrupted by the convention. Still, they acknowledge that life will be different in Northeast Ohio from July 18 to 21.

Ed Tomba, Cleveland's deputy police chief, has a term for that: "Business as usual, in an unusual manner."

'Rock Boxes' and public art

While the city's security preparations have received the most attention, Cleveland has also been trying to put on a welcoming face for convention visitors.

Just in time for the convention, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame set up colorful loudspeakers around downtown. The "Rock Boxes" will play music from some of the Rock Hall's hundreds of inductees.

Musicians and other artists greeted delegates as they arrived at Cleveland's airport on Friday. And downtown buildings, including some vacant ones, have been spruced up with RNC-themed signs.

Copyright 2016 90.3 WCPN Ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN Ideastream.

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