Kenney, Ross Discuss Plans for DNC Protests

Violent attacks in Germany and France have led to some tactical changes.

Mayor Jim Kenney discussing the looming DNC at the Office of Emergency Management on Sunday.

Mayor Jim Kenney (center) discusses the looming DNC at the Office of Emergency Management on Sunday.

Massive protest marches have already started to unfold in Philadelphia, which can only mean one thing: the Democratic National Convention is finally here.

Mayor Jim Kenney, Police Commissioner Richard Ross, Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel and other officials gathered earlier today in the basement of the city’s Emergency Operations Building on Spring Garden Street to riff on the challenges they’ll face this week.

Ross said he traveled to Cleveland several weeks ago and talked strategy with a group of top law enforcement officials, including a handful of police chiefs who had previous experience in hosting political conventions. There had been plenty of concern that the Republican National Convention would lead to chaos in the streets of Cleveland, but the event seemed to go off without a hitch, attracting fewer protesters than expected, and resulting in only two dozen or so arrests.

Will Philly be different? Maybe. Maybe not. The city has estimated that it could see 35,000 to 50,000 protesters a day this week, a ballpark figure that Kenney said was based on information from demonstration permit applications. But the city is being smothered by yet another heat wave — the forecast for Monday alone might include face-melting — which could lead to some smaller turnouts.

FDR Park in South Philly is expected to see some of the largest crowds of the week. Kenney said two medic tents will be set up in the park, along with two misting tents. Bottled water will also be available there, and on Broad Street, where some marches are scheduled to take place. Fire hydrants will be affixed with sprinkler caps on Broad too, Kenney said.

Some Philadelphia police officers were in Cleveland during the RNC. “They were able to get some vital intelligence that helped us, more so proving that we were on the right page and doing the right thing,” Ross said, standing in front of a wall of monitors, in a room filled with representatives from every imaginable law enforcement agency manning phones and computers. “We have a comprehensive plan, as you might imagine, and we’re confident in that, and we’re confident that we’ll be able to keep the people visiting here safe.

There are, of course, plenty of “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” as Donald Rumsfeld might say. The city expects some demonstrators who were denied protest permits might still show up and try to do their thing anyway. And although Kenney said protesters are “highly encouraged not to camp” during the DNC, it would be a surprise if many don’t try to do just that. Ross said police would evaluate those instances as they arise.

The Police Department has had conversations with many of the groups that plan on demonstrating in the city this week, Ross said, leaving him “cautiously optimistic” that things will go relatively smoothly. “Many of these people have indicated they have no desire to do anything other than to express their first amendment rights.”

But the specter of recent violent attacks — either at home, in Dallas and Baton Rouge, or abroad, in France and Germany — looms large.  Ross said additional barricades will be set up to prevent anyone from mimicking the terrorist who drove a truck into a crowd on Bastille Day in Nice, France, earlier this month. “Certainly what we’re dealing with internationally is sad and frightening and unpredictable,” Kenney said. “You have to go into everyday as if it’s a normal day.”

Ross and other police commanders will be out on the streets with scores of rank-and-file cops — the commissioner declined to divulge the specific number — and continue to stick with the approach they’ve relied on during countless other protests in the city during the last few years. Cops will be in polo shirts or their standard-issue uniforms, riding and walking alongside marchers instead of trying to square off with them. It almost goes without saying that they’ll want to avoid the hundreds of arrests that marred the RNC when it was held in Philly sixteen years ago. “We’ll be a lot more patient and tolerant with many of the protestors and demonstrators,” Ross said. (On the other hand: the city is prepared for the possibility that mass arrests will occur.)

There is a silver lining to all of the worrying about hypotheticals. “It is very exciting to see what’s going to happen in Philadelphia with this historic happening that’s going to result in the first women president of the United States,” Kenney said. “That is exciting and wonderful.”