Here’s What Philly Cops Thought of the DNC Protests

We don't know if we can handle all of these good vibes.

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., march alongside Philadelphia police during a protest on Sunday, July 24.

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., march alongside Philadelphia police during a protest on Sunday, July 24.

We’ll do better this time. Promise. 

City officials did everything but tattoo that message across their foreheads when the Democratic National Convention rolled into town earlier this week, knowing full well that just about every news story that was going to be written about protest marches would reference the hundreds of controversial arrests that Philadelphia police made during the 2000 Republican National Convention.

So nuisance crimes like disorderly conduct and blocking a highway were decriminalized, meaning cops could just hand out fines to unruly demonstrators instead of having to lock them up. The Police Department vowed to keep its officers in their regular uniforms, not Storm Trooper-esque riot gear. The goal, Mayor Jim Kenney said more than a few times, was to get through the week without having to make any arrests.

It all sounded good, in theory. But isn’t the road to hell supposed to be paved with good intentions?

The city had also estimated that as many as 35,000 to 50,000 protesters would be doing their thing here — every day. That’s basically a small city of angry people, all of whom were set to collide with scores of cops in unrelenting, oppressive heat. It could have been a recipe for disaster. But it wasn’t.

The daily number of demonstrators didn’t climb much beyond 5,000. Philly police issued just 103 citations. The Secret Service arrested 11 protesters who tried to get past the security fences at Broad and Pattison in South Philly. There were no mass arrests, or jumpy cell phone videos of cops and protesters fighting.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross stressed throughout the week that the vast majority of marchers had been peaceful. Many went out of their way, he said, to compliment the cops on their peaceful tone, to thank them for following along and making sure everyone was safe.

But what did police officers who were on the protest march detail think of the whole ordeal? Did they share such a rosy view of the demonstrators? I reached out to a handful of Philly cops, all of whom agreed to share their thoughts anonymously. And across the board, they had nothing but positive things to say. Seriously.

“I walked away from so many conversations with Bernie [Sanders] supporters completely blown away by how positive the experience was,” said one veteran cop. “A lot of people have been discussing how some of the nicest people they’ve encountered here have been wearing Bernie pins. Protesters and visitors.”

A police supervisor said that the DNC proved to be far less hectic than the 2000 RNC. “We were being dispatched all over back then. This time, they were focused on two main locations — Broad and Pattison, and City Hall,” he said, adding that bike cops “did 99 percent of the heavy lifting. They really saved the day again, and they engaged the people. I was in street clothes and watched them. Beyond professional. Not to sound corny … but I was really impressed and proud.”

The supervisor said he also had good run-ins with Sanders supporters. “You could pick up a really good vibe from them,” he said. “The anarchists and a few of the Black Lives Matter folks were totally different. You could hear them talking about organizing and pushing the police into a confrontation so that they could capture it on video.”

The week came and went, though, without any significant conflicts.

Some bike officers were on standby Thursday night, in case things got heated near the security fences again. It was the last night of the convention, and there was some worry that a handful of demonstrators might try to get through the fences again.

“Overall, it’s been good. People for the most part have been thanking us and expressing what a great job we’ve done, and how nice Philadelphia police officers are,” one bike cop said. “People from Philadelphia are great people. The problems we are having are from outside radical groups looking to engage the police in an attempt to disrupt the convention.”

Earlier in the day, Ross said that only five of the 103 people who had received citations were from Philly. “During our next big event, hopefully that number will get down to zero,” the bike cop said.

“They’ve been cool,” another veteran cop said of the protesters. “The heat sucks.”

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