- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Police in New York will be outfitted to deal with the thousands of demonstrators expected to show up to protest the Republican National Convention in August.

Protesters will find the 10,000 police officers assigned to convention duty with handguns, batons and tear gas canisters on the hip. More equipment will be stashed in strategic spots throughout the city and other officers will be on call as backup.

It’s the same system that the city’s police have used for years when expecting protests.

But exactly what the police have at their disposal is what Eric Laursen of the Campaign to Demilitarize the Police is trying to find out via a Freedom of Information Act request to the New York Police Department.

“The police have ramped up the tactics they use against protesters in the last few years,” Mr. Laursen said. “In Miami, they use what are known as nonlethal weapons, which is a misnomer because it includes rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray. And [these weapons] have killed people. Our goal is to stop these weapons from being used as a common practice.”

A New York Police Department official said there was a “myth” circulating in the protest community about the existence of a special NYPD weapons cache for dealing with protesters that is simply not true. He said the department’s focus is not on the planned demonstrations.

“These protesters have an inflated view of their importance,” said NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne. “Our main concern is to protect against a terrorist attack. We have 600 demonstrations annually just below 59th Street. We have plenty of experience in this and there are no secret weapons.”

The department does not use rubber bullets, he said.

NYPD’s emergency service unit, used primarily to deal with emotionally and potentially volatile individuals, will be available to remove any disruptive elements among the protesters.

Mr. Laursen said he feared the conflict that happened in Miami between police and protesters will repeat itself in New York.

In November, police clashed with groups protesting international officials who gathered in Miami to discuss a free-trade zone to span the Western Hemisphere.

Police showed reporters there materials confiscated from demonstrators, including rubber wrist slings used to fire debris at police and ingredients for Molotov cocktails.

“The use of force in Miami was used to create a military lockdown of the city,” Mr. Laursen said. “Police had undercover cops that were there to provoke violence, and they were arresting people who were peaceful protesters.”

Mr. Browne countered: “We don’t consider protesters to be our enemy.”

Both the Republican convention and the Democratic convention in Boston were noted by Attorney General John Ashcroft last week when he announced new warnings of possible terrorist action against U.S. targets.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said last week that police would change some plans because of the threats, including the use of “Hercules” teams that patrol the streets with body armor and machine guns.

The department was dealt a setback in its security efforts last week when a federal judge ruled that Mr. Kelly will have to answer questions about the tactics officers use during protests.

Lawyers representing groups planning protests during the convention want to question Mr. Kelly in connection with three lawsuits charging police tactics during protests are unconstitutional.

“Security plans for the convention are sensitive,” Mr. Browne said. “We are being forced to disclose information that could be used by groups like al Qaeda.”

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