“When we pull this off, it’s going to be an amazing story.”
–Michael Black, Major, Ohio State Highway Patrol
On a warm summer morning on July 17, 2016, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director John Born stood together in an auditorium on the campus of Cleveland State University.
Governor Kasich was there to address nearly 500 Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) troopers—the largest commitment of resources to a single event in the patrol’s 82-year history. Later that day, Governor Kasich would also speak with commanders from 18 other state law enforcement agencies, which represented the largest assembling of out-of-state law enforcement officers in Ohio history—more than 1,000 officers.
The officers assembled to help the city of Cleveland host the Republican National Convention (RNC) that week, which would be the first National Special Security Event (NSSE) political convention since the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the first NSSE political convention in which the host city’s law enforcement agency was under a federal consent decree.¹
Ohio law enforcement faced an incredible set of challenges. An event as large as the RNC was complex to begin with; its taking place in a time of ongoing safety threats including terrorism, mass shootings of law enforcement officers and strained community-police relations greatly amplified the complexity and challenges.
On July 7, just days before the RNC, a lone gunman in Dallas, Texas killed five police officers. In a separate incident, a gunman in Baton Rouge killed three law enforcement officers on July 17. Those events, plus an ISIS-inspired attack on July 14 at a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, France, that killed 85 people, and other recent terrorist attacks in Belgium, Turkey, and Paris led to palpable nervousness for security officials heading into the RNC, scheduled for July 18–21 in Cleveland.
There were predictions of chaos and violence in Cleveland amidst an already contentious political climate. Community-police relations across the United States were strained, as the country had also just watched two officer-involved shootings play out on social media in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Even with all of these elements as the backdrop to the RNC, the government and law enforcement leaders involved shared a quiet optimism. Ohio began a journey toward bridging the divide between communities and law enforcement back in January 2014, in that same auditorium where Governor Kasich would soon speak. That effort—the Ohio Collaborative Community Police Advisory Board—put Ohio on the map as a model for community-police relations.²
Governor Kasich established the Ohio Collaborative in 2015 to oversee implementation of recommendations from the Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations. The state has partnered with the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association and the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police to help certify Ohio’s nearly 1,000 law enforcement agencies to keep them in compliance with Ohio’s new standards. As of November 2016, 83 agencies had become certified by meeting standards for the use of force, including deadly force, and agency recruitment and hiring, and 235 agencies had begun the process of becoming certified. Those standards are the first of their kind in Ohio and were developed by the Ohio Collaborative in August 2015.
The litmus test would occur over the next four days. Leaders knew that a safe RNC for delegates, media, law enforcement, and the public would change the country’s view of Cleveland. It would also change the world’s view on how communities and law enforcement can interact peacefully and collaboratively. The goal was to change the narrative from one where the RNC became the tipping point for anger and violence to one showing the success that’s possible when everyone in a city works together.
It would be an amazing story.
Broken Arrow Day
For more than two years, federal, state and local security experts engaged in comprehensive planning and event preparations for the RNC. A group of Ohio state agencies met 14 times, beginning in 2014. There was also an RNC executive steering committee on which Director Born served, and 27 subcommittees, many of which involved DPS representatives.
Major Michael Black of the OSHP was the detail commander for the OSHP and all state agencies that came to Cleveland as part of a unique federal assistance program. He worked side-by-side with Deputy Chief Edward Tomba of the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP), who was their overall detail commander.
Black had the massive responsibility of developing a plan for 2,100 law enforcement officers that included making assignments, drawing up schedules, and obtaining resources. The officers were from the OSHP, 18 other state law enforcement agencies, CDP, and municipal agencies from Columbus, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; and Austin, Texas. Included within the OSHP cadre were also members of the Executive Protection Unit, investigators, and the motorcycle unit that was involved with all the dignitary protection details, motorcades and escorts—all of which, Black noted, went smoothly.
“Combining that many agencies together was unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like it in 28 years,” said Black, who had previously worked on seven other large mass demonstration details including G-20 summits and presidential inaugurations.³
The operations plans needed to put structure and organization in place for everything outside of the main venue; U.S. Secret Service was in charge inside the venue.
“Cleveland was awarded the convention in July 2014, and we knew our efforts were going to involve a lot of people and a lot of agencies,” Tomba said. “The world and law enforcement changed drastically since that time. Our planning process was fluid and changed a lot because of national and world events.”4
The most important asset during planning wasn’t put in place until the final weeks leading up to the RNC. It was the establishment of a six-member logistics team comprised of OSHP sworn officers and professional staff that came about only through crisis. Black recalled the impetus for that action:
In mid-April, we found out that about 600 officers who had previously committed to work the RNC were not coming. We called that ‘Broken Arrow Day,’ and we needed to do something fast because the RNC was going to happen in less than three months. And one way or another, we had to be ready.
With huge personnel and logistics gaps to fill, the logistics team worked out of an office in the Federal Courthouse Building in Cleveland every day for the next three months. From that office, they built the structure of the entire detail for the OSHP and the other 21 partnering state and local agencies and ensured it all synched with the CDP’s operations plan. They also worked on securing contracts for housing for more than 2,000 officers, as well as contracts for their food, water, laundry services, and bus transportation to get the officers around Cleveland to their various assignments.
Each CDP commander met with the logistics team to ensure their plans were worked out to every last detail. The team also met every Friday with Deputy Chief Tomba.
For the OSHP, one of the most important missions was security around the perimeter of the venue. Just days before the event, Black and his logistics team faced a new challenge when it was revealed the responsibility for perimeter security at the venue was going to be a 24-hour commitment (instead of 12 hours per day, as previously thought), which meant a new midnight shift had to be added to the operations plan.
“I am so proud of the logistics team,” Black said. “When they first met on April 22 you would have never believed it would all come together. They deserve the credit. They put the work in, and you could see it in how the mission was accomplished.”
A First for Everyone
Holly Welch is the DPS attorney who managed the complex process that brought more than 1,000 state law enforcement officers from 18 states coming to Cleveland as part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). Welch said that the multi-law enforcement coalition assembled for the RNC was unprecedented in Ohio, and something never before seen at any previous U.S. national convention.
“The thing I am most proud of is we were able to meet the needs of Cleveland,” Welch said. “Everyone got a warm public reaction and everyone was able to stay safe.”5
Coordinated through the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), EMAC serves as the relational and legal glue between federal, state, and local entities for moving people and resources. EMAC offers assistance during governor-declared states of emergency that allows states to send personnel, equipment, and commodities to help disaster relief efforts in other states. Once the conditions for providing assistance to a requesting state have been set, the terms constitute a legally binding contractual agreement that makes affected states responsible for reimbursement.6
Without EMAC, many of the states that sent in some of the 1,000 out-of-state officers to work in Cleveland may not have participated in the detail.
Ohio Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Sima Merick oversaw the entire EMAC process.
The actions we took with respect to EMAC were unprecedented. The coordination and collaboration with NEMA, state agencies and the City of Cleveland to get those resources in here filled the gaps law enforcement needed. We were able to bring in specialized units and officers who knew the mission and were able to execute the mission safely and successfully.7
Welch attributed the success through EMAC to three things: coordination, communication, and flexibility. EMAC activation usually does not involve advance planning because agencies are typically responding to a disaster or incident that has already occurred. However, Welch expects the way EMAC was used for the RNC to become a blueprint for other states in terms of resources and coordination on the front end of an event.
This was a first for everyone in that we were planning before the event and even changing the plan during the event. It was great to work with the other states. We were able to work with emergency managers behind the scenes to get law enforcement the liability protection, reimbursements and other requirements they needed. It was a team of people from NEMA, to the states, to [Ohio’s] EMA, to people in Cleveland.
For Merick, the realization of how important EMAC was happened as, from a command center several miles away from the venue, she watched live television coverage of a group of protesters gathered in the public square area on the RNC’s third day.
They were showing this large group of people on television and it looked like there were more and more coming. Then the camera panned over and I saw troopers with patches on their uniforms from Kansas and Missouri and Indiana. I was so proud to know that we had been able to do that for the city of Cleveland.
A Model for the Nation
The RNC management approach blended with the underlying success of the Ohio Collaborative, and conversations already taking place in Cleveland are mending community-police relations. The RNC was Cleveland’s opportunity to shine, and the community members weren’t baited into violence by out-of-towners.
This sentiment was echoed in a July 22 op-ed on Time.com from Governor Kasich as the RNC concluded.
When problems between the community and police arose in recent years, people came together to improve communication and begin rebuilding trust. The result is that people know they have a stake in making things work and have a reason for optimism. It’s a model for the nation.8
To encourage community engagement and collaboration, in the week leading up to the RNC, Governor Kasich went to Cleveland to meet with civic and clergy leaders to discuss the Ohio Collaborative and to ask for their assistance in turning its accomplishments into a pathway for a peaceful RNC in the city.
Leaders during that meeting were reminded that Cleveland was one of 20 communities in Ohio selected to receive up to $30,000 in community-police relations funding from the DPS Office of Criminal Justice Services to assist with initiatives to improve relationships between communities and the law enforcement agencies serving them. This is further proof that Ohio is becoming a leader in its efforts to build stronger relationships between police and communities, and it demonstrates the willingness of law enforcement to reach out to the communities they serve.
A Double Opportunity
The main RNC venue in downtown Cleveland was the Quicken Loans Arena, where, just weeks earlier, the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrated an NBA championship. The victory parade drew an estimated 1.3 million people to downtown Cleveland and served as an unexpected and beneficial test for the security officials preparing for the RNC.
Supporting venues within walking distance included the Cleveland Convention Center and the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel. Events were invitation-only and not open to the public. Protesters and any other members of the public had to gather at an outside ring separated by seven miles of perimeter fencing and a one-mile chute from the venue to the convention center.
Approximately 50,000 visitors and an international media contingent were expected in the Northeast Ohio area. Planning for public safety and security was a large coordinated effort by law enforcement, emergency management, public safety organizations at all levels of government, and the private sector.
As a NSSE event, the U.S. Secret Service was designated as the lead federal agency for security operational planning, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) serving as the lead federal agency for crisis management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency serving as the lead federal agency for emergency and consequence management.
There were three primary federal command centers in or near Cleveland that were limited to credentialed law enforcement, military, and emergency management personnel. The Multi Agency Coordination Center was established near Hopkins airport. This was the primary command, communication, and control component. A number of sub-command and coordinating centers were co-located within this controlled access venue.
OSHP Colonel Paul Pride, who had authorized the largest commitment of personnel and resources ever from his organization, knew that the RNC marked a significant opportunity for law enforcement to change the public narrative about police officers.
The morning before the RNC there was chaos in the country and around the world, but on the heels of that there was a double opportunity. First, there was an opportunity for the people of Cleveland to say something about their city. And for law enforcement, there was an opportunity to show who we really are.9
Hugs, High-Fives, and Handshakes
After more than 18 months of planning, and all the struggles along the way, the plans were in place. Everyone and everything was ready. The eyes of the world were going to be on Cleveland—and more than 2,000 law enforcement officers from agencies across the United States were going to be in the spotlight of what members of the media were predicting to be an extremely volatile week in Cleveland.
Then the deadly shootings of law enforcement officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge just before the RNC caused trepidation for many officers working the RNC. News of the Baton Rouge shootings was still coming in as Governor Kasich prepared to speak with OSHP troopers on the eve on the RNC.
Black noted that the operations plans had to be readjusted after the Dallas shootings. He recounted numerous phone conversations with some of the EMAC agencies regarding the increasing safety concerns for their officers in the wake of Dallas. To the credit of every EMAC agency, nobody backed out of their commitment to be part of the RNC detail.
With the planning phase done, the responsibility shifted to OSHP Major Chad McGinty, who was the assistant detail commander and commander of the field force for crowd control and civil disturbance.
“Our strategy was to control the crowds and tempo in the city,” McGinty said. “There was no way it could have worked without the partnerships with those other state agencies. We had a commander from every agency with us in the command center. Anytime we needed something, we got it.”10
As focus transitioned to the operations of the RNC, McGinty led the multi-state field force, and Black shifted to overseeing traffic responsibilities including motorcades and dignitary escorts. OSHP investigators and executive protection staff were responsible for dignitary protection and the venue security, which included the perimeter of the main venue. The Special Response Team served as a quick reactionary force inside the perimeter security between the fence and the venue. On top of all of that, Ohio Investigative Unit agents worked the local bars and teamed up with CDP and U.S. Secret Service personnel on counter-surveillance teams.
Ohio law permits the open carry of firearms, which is not the case for a number of states who sent officers to the RNC detail. In the wake of the Dallas and Baton Rouge shootings, officers of many of these agencies felt uncertain about how to deal with the open-carry element, as well as increased concerns about snipers. There were even calls for Governor Kasich to temporarily suspend Ohio’s open-carry law, although, constitutionally, he is not authorized to do so.
McGinty worked to ease those concerns among officers by sharing intelligence ahead of time when they knew open-carry citizens were coming. He provided reassurance that those people were just doing it for effect, would be adequately “trailed,” and did not pose a problem.
“It was a huge challenge for them,” McGinty said about discussions he had with commanders from other states without open carry laws. “Someone carrying an AK-47 in a crowd with all those people around was tough. We just continued reassuring the other states that it would be ok and to just let it play out.”
For protesters and anarchists, downtown Cleveland with its numerous glass storefronts was a target-rich environment. Thrown objects to break windows was a concern for many business owners and security officials. The best way to counter that threat was to saturate the city with law enforcement officers walking and moving in small groups.
McGinty used a “golf shotgun start” analogy to describe how and where officers were deployed. Every officer had a map that showed staging areas throughout the city and line assignments from each staging area.
Like a charity golf outing, small groups of officers would start at a designated time from each staging location. A short time later, another group would go out, and that would continue throughout the day.
“We just constantly saturated key areas of the city. Even if you wanted to start something you couldn’t – there were just too many officers,” McGinty said.
The first groups out each day were charged with looking for protest materials that had been hidden overnight by anarchists. So when the anarchists came back out later, the bolts, bricks, and other items they had hidden to cause damage to property and people were nowhere to be found.
McGinty also knew if law enforcement could gain public support early in the operation then the community would be a terrific asset in helping maintain order throughout the week. He wanted the officers to be seen everywhere and for the community to view them as a nice addition to the city. Even in Cleveland’s Public Square, where the largest groups of protesters assembled each day, officers went out without riot gear.
The challenge after Dallas was to get everyone to buy in to what we were doing. Many of the other states thought they were going to be in riot suits and shooting tear gas all week. What actually happened was ping pong, dance contests, hugs, high-fives, and handshakes.
Tomba noted his biggest surprise was the level of law enforcement and public anxiety before the event compared with what actually happened once it started.
The first two days were quiet, and our local community was just watching and hoping that would continue. By days three and four it picked up and became a community celebration. As a lifelong city resident and police officer in this city for 32 years, I knew the city was dedicated and committed. You know the Cleveland Cavaliers won six weeks earlier, and the fact we had no significant incidents says a lot for our city and leadership.
In addition to a strong law enforcement presence in Cleveland, there was work behind the scenes. Richard Zwayer, Executive Director of Ohio Homeland Security (OHS), was overseeing a key component in support of those officers on the streets.
None of our work was outwardly visible to law enforcement, but behind the scenes we were there for commanders and leadership to give them the timely information they needed to make crucial and successful decisions.11
Collaboration was occurring on the intelligence side as well. OHS worked with partners such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, OSHP Intelligence Unit, Ohio Fusion Center Network, FBI, and U.S. Secret Service to share pertinent intelligence that had an impact on the operations of law enforcement and security leading up to and during the RNC. They were also assisting in identifying critical infrastructure that could be impacted by the event.
“The development and identification of intelligence was an important part of the planning and operations of the RNC,” Zwayer said. “The sharing and collaboration helped identify potential threats and issues that were likely to arise during the event, and, when we shared that with law enforcement, it was used to develop tactical objectives in order to protect attendees and the public.”
OHS was directly involved in searching for terroristic threats related or directed toward the RNC or its attendees. Zwayer said OHS staff focused on ensuring the information gathered was vetted and then provided as intelligence with value for law enforcement and first responders to act upon.
Our goal was to prevent something from happening, rather than responding to something that had already happened. We believe strongly that our interactions with state, federal, and local partners and the value of the information we shared with each agency’s leadership was unseen but a valuable part of the RNC.
Collaboration was also integral to the work EMA was doing, both before the RNC and during the event itself. Merick, who also served as one of four unified group commanders during the RNC, was able to closely coordinate state resources with all involved entities, levels of government, and the private sector. Additionally, through a 24-hour activation of the state Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Columbus that involved, at various times, 15–20 different state and federal agencies, Merick oversaw the linking of support to county and city EOCs to ensure that accurate information was available around the clock for decision-makers.
Because we were in the pre-event planning meetings, we were able to learn and glean what our federal partners were doing and what resources they were pre-positioning. Knowing what our state resources were gave me a sense of comfort on what resources we might need, and from where, if something big happened.
We Overwhelmed Them
As the event commenced, Cleveland’s Public Square became a gathering place for large groups of protesters. At its peak, approximately 1,000 people gathered in the downtown open area. McGinty estimated that crowd size included about 400 protesters, but it also included approximately 200 law enforcement officers and hundreds of credentialed and independent media members looking for a story that never materialized.
Included in the first large group of protesters was a Black Lives Matter group with known anarchists that had blended into the crowd of lawful protestors. As the group marched down Cleveland’s East 48th Street, they were trailed by officers on bicycles. Then, as the crowd turned a corner, they saw Michigan State Police troopers lining both sides of the street. McGinty noted the line of troopers in their blue uniforms was an instant deterrent to anyone who may have had other plans. It set the theme for the entire week.
Getting all those states to come was huge. For instance, we had 300 troopers from California who I knew were all trained the same way. I could tell one California trooper, “This is what I need,” and all 300 would react in the same way.
A focus for the week was to change the perception of law enforcement and make the story about positive interactions between the public and officers. Through gathered intelligence, it was well known that the intent of many protesters and anarchists was to get a reaction from officers. McGinty stressed throughout the week that restraint and self-discipline in that environment would be critical toward changing the perception of community-police relations.
A prime illustration of the need for restraint involved the OSHP mobile field force, and a person protesting the incident in which 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by Cleveland police in 2014.
A man with a 4-year-old daughter, was screaming obscenities at each trooper and periodically pretending to shoot his daughter, who would fall to the ground as part of the protest. As the man went down one line of troopers and then the next, he dropped his chapstick on the ground. A trooper, who had just been yelled at by this man, picked up the chapstick and courteously returned it to the man.
A group of onlookers saw this gesture and began applauding. They moved in around the protester to support the troopers, which caused him to leave the area. He tried a similar protest on another day directed toward California troopers, who conducted themselves in the same courteous manner as the Ohio troopers. The protester walked away, again frustrated by the professionalism and restraint.
“We overwhelmed them with polite, professional police services. They just couldn’t ever get anything going,” McGinty said.
Tomba noted law enforcement’s use of bicycles also became a central part of the strategy for crowd control. Officers were able to quickly establish barricades with their bicycles between protesters with opposing views. It served as a safe way for law enforcement to keep things calm but still allow everyone to maintain their First Amendment right to free speech.
The bicycles had a big impact for us that week and going forward. We have better training, better equipment and are an overall better police department because of this event. What we learned, you don’t get in school or in books.
An Amazing Story
Before the event, on July 16, McGinty spoke with the OSHP troopers working the detail about his expectations and how the upcoming days were a chance for the world to see what he already knew—that the OSHP is a shining example of professional law enforcement. Sitting in his office two weeks after the detail, he was still emotional about what they did.
Everyone did exactly what I wanted them to do. No gas was used. No broken glass. They shined, and we got to share that with the rest of the world.
McGinty also speaks glowingly of the other agencies who came to Cleveland. Instead of helmets and shields, he likes to recount stories of the Louisville officer who stopped to break-dance with some teens, the Indiana State Police trooper who got in on a ping pong game, and the California state trooper who joined a peace activist who was giving away free hugs.
Reflecting on the RNC from his office a month afterward, Pride also acknowledged a key to the overall success came from those outside of law enforcement.
You have to tip your hat to the people in the city of Cleveland and the leadership in the community. The clergy, elected officials, and influential people in the city helped make the week what it was. We saw great collaboration with the people and leadership in the city. We got a block party instead of a riot.
Pride also expressed appreciation to Cleveland’s business community for their welcoming spirit throughout the event. As an example, PNC Bank in Cleveland opened its cafeteria and office space to officers, allowing a much-needed place for everyone working the RNC to rest and reenergize before heading back out to respective assignments. It is an example of a sentiment that was echoed by so many, and it was not surprising to those who call Cleveland home.
“As proud as I am of being in law enforcement, I’m more proud of being a Clevelander,” Tomba said.
In summing up the overall RNC operation and looking ahead to future events, everyone interviewed for this article acknowledged the planning, organization, collaboration, and community engagement will pay dividends for a long time.
“When we pull this off, it’s going to be an amazing story,” Black told Director Born as they drove back from Cleveland about two weeks before the event.
And what an amazing story it turned out to be.
1 When an event is designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security as a National Special Security Event (NSSE), the U.S. Secret Service assumes its mandated role as the lead agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan. The Secret Service has developed a core strategy to carry out its security operations, which relies heavily on its established partnerships with law enforcement and public safety officials at the local, state, and federal levels. The goal of the cooperating agencies is to provide a safe and secure environment for Secret Service protectees, other dignitaries, the event participants, and the general public. There is a tremendous amount of advance planning and coordination in preparation for these events, particularly in the areas of venue and motorcade route security, communications, credentialing, and training. Center for Domestic Preparedness, “NSSE NLE Support,” https://cdp.dhs.gov/training/nsse-nle-support (accessed November 8, 2016).
2 Ohio Collaborative Community Police Advisory Board, http://www.ocjs.ohio.gov/ohiocollaborative (accessed November 8, 2016).
3 All quotes by Michael Black (major, Ohio State Highway Patrol) came from an interview on August 10, 2016.
4 All quotes by Edward Tomba (deputy chief, Cleveland Division of Police) came from a telephone interview on August 10, 2016.
5 All quotes from Holly Welch (attorney, Cleveland Division of Police) came from an interview on August 8, 2016.
6 Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), “What Is EMAC?” http://www.emacweb.org/index.php/learnaboutemac/what-is-emac (accessed November 8, 2016).
7 All quotes by Sima Merick (executive director, Ohio Emergency Management Agency) came from an interview on August 16, 2016.
8 John R. Kasich, “Gov. John Kasich: Division and Hatred ‘Need to End’” Time, July 22, 2016, http://time.com/4420056/john-kasich-cleveland (accessed November 8, 2016).
9 All quotes by Paul Pride (colonel, Ohio State Highway Patrol) came from an interview on August 15, 2016.
10 All quotes by Chad McGinty (major, Ohio State Highway Patrol) came from an interview on August 11, 2016.
11 All quotes by Richard Zwayer (executive director, Ohio Homeland Security) came from an interview on August 10, 2016.