CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For this summer’s Democratic National Convention, Charlotte will add thousands of police from outside departments and spend millions on training, equipment and temporary barriers. But their biggest aid in crowd control will be one they didn’t have to purchase, build or teach: The layout of the city itself.
Convention-related activities will take place in the heart of the city’s central business district, which is flat and ringed by expressways. There are no nearby neighborhoods where protesters could overflow and cause trouble if violence erupts. Unlike Tampa, which is hosting this summer’s Republican convention, there is no adjoining body of water to complicate efforts to control crowds. Simply put, the police will have the protesters surrounded in secured areas.
Still, with so many variables to manage, the police chief acknowledges he often wakes up in the middle of the night to write down things he still needs to do. The September convention is an event unlike any the city has seen, likely to draw thousands of demonstrators who range from the peaceful and politically minded to anarchists bent on disrupting the events.
“During those demonstrations, you’re going to constantly have people trying to stir things up. If they’re not making an impact, you keep moving things along. But if they start agitating people, you have to take action,” Police Chief Rodney Monroe said in an interview. “You want to treat people fairly. As long as you facilitate helping the greater number of people out there demonstrating, we want to keep them on our side. Hopefully they’ll help us identify some of the agitators.”
The city of 760,000 is spending $50 million in federal funds to buy new equipment, train officers and make other security adjustments for the convention being held from Sept. 4-6. The police force’s yearlong preparations also included sending 100 officers to help maintain order in Chicago during chaotic protests at a NATO conference in May.
For the first two days, the Time Warner Arena in the city’s downtown will be the main venue. On the last day, President Barack Obama will make his acceptance speech at the 74,000-seat outdoor Bank of America stadium where the city’s NFL team plays. While the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security will be responsible for security inside the convention hall and stadium, Charlotte police have to maintain order for the many gatherings surrounding the convention.
Police say they don’t know how many protesters will come, but massive rallies are already in the works. Two days before the convention, a coalition of 70 groups is planning to hold peaceful protests on economic inequality and other issues under the name Wall Street South. The national Occupy movement has also issued a loose call for protesters, as have anarchist groups.
The Charlotte area is home to Bank of America Corp. one of the nation’s largest banks by assets and other Fortune 500 companies, including Duke Energy and Lowe’s. With a number of companies in the financial industry, the city has fashioned itself as a banking hub.
The city has hosted large conventions and sporting events before, but nothing on the scale of the Democratic convention. Prominent events have included an NCAA Final Four, ACC Championship football game and the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in 2010, which drew 70,000 people over three days.
Monroe said he expects most demonstrators at the Democratic convention to be peaceful. But department leaders are prepared for the kind of disruptive protesters who have emerged in recent years.
Monroe brings crowd-control experience from previous posts. As a commander with the Washington, D.C., police department, he was responsible for coordinating security for then-President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997.
He and other department leaders have met with law enforcement commanders from St. Paul. Minn., where the GOP convention was held in 2008; and Denver, the site of the 2008 Democratic convention. They also consulted with Boston police, where the Democrats held the 2004 convention. The police chief said he speaks every day with the Secret Service and Homeland Security about the convention.
“We’ve done our best to educate ourselves in lessons of other major cities for mass protests,” Monroe said.
With the help of the federal funds, Charlotte plans to add 2,400 to 3,400 officers from outside departments to its force of more than 1,750.
Some of the money has also been used to buy about $61,000 in software to help officers identify and mitigate security threats, $303,596 for bicycles and other field equipment, $704,795 for a command center upgrade and $937,852 to lodge visiting police officers, according to documents released by Charlotte officials.