Cleveland police chief talks protests and security ahead of the Republican National Convention

cleveland police chief

Screengrab via Face the Nation on CBS/YouTube

It's unclear whether open carry laws will still apply.

Cleveland police chief Calvin Williams appeared on CBS News’ Face The Nation on Sunday morning. Williams spoke with host John Dickerson about the state of security and safety surrounding the upcoming Republican National Convention. The RNC begins on Monday, and will run through Thursday, amounting to―in all likelihood―four solid days of celebration of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Amid a recent spate of mass shootings, furious protests against Trump and his brand of nativist nationalism, and the state of Ohio’s open carry gun laws, there’s been a lot of concern about how the convention and its surrounding area will be kept safe and secure.

Williams, for his part, was clearly eager to project a calm confidence on these questions. Starting off, Dickerson asked him to give a sense of the “scope” of what he and his department will be focusing on ahead of the convention. Williams replied that things were “pretty quiet” at the moment, though he did give some details about what law enforcement will be facing when things really kick off.

“We’re not actually watching any particular group. There have been approximately four or five groups that have signed up to actually do our official parade route, we’ve had impromptu parade marches, protest marches for probably the last five or six days. We actually had one yesterday afternoon with a group that was voicing their First Amendment concerns, and we expect to have them throughout the convention, whether they’re scheduled or impromptu.”

Dickerson then asked Williams about the possible presence of “anarchists” at the GOP convention. It wouldn’t be the first time law enforcement authorities have voiced concern about disruptive action interrupting a major political convention―there were similar such stories in advance of the 2012 Republican convention. Williams didn’t seem terribly concerned, insisting that despite the potential intersection of many different groups with wildly competing goals, the Cleveland police are “prepared for it all.”

“Well, we’ve heard reports from different sources about everyone from anarchists to black separatists to just regular Trump followers, anti-Trump followers, I mean, everybody has been in some way shape or form touted as coming to Cleveland to either cause trouble or to exercise their First Amendment rights, but we’re prepared for it all.”

Dickerson then asked Williams a question that’s been on a lot of people’s minds, thanks to the convention taking place in the state of Ohio. Residents of the Buckeye State are legally allowed to openly carry firearms in plain sight, so long as they’re legally purchased and owned. 

This is relevant for a number of reasons, mainly that seeing people in public places visibly armed with handguns or rifles is intimidating and tension-escalating, and that the open carrying of such weapons can make it hard for law enforcement to discern actual threats, as Dallas police chief David Brown described happening during the fatal assault on his officers last week.

Williams acknowledged that Ohio’s gun laws could make policing the convention a “challenge," but he assured Dickerson his department plans to "handle" the situation and that "everyone has the right to open carry."

It's worth noting that Williams gave this answer prior to breaking news on Sunday morning of the deadly shooting of three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In response to the shootings in Baton Rouge, the Cleveland police union has called for Gov. John Kasich to suspend Ohio's open carry law in advance of the convention.

Williams also told Dickerson that Cleveland law enforcement has installed some barriers at key locations around the convention hall in light of the recent, deadly truck attack in Nice, France, highlighting the ripple effect that deadly events or act of terrorism can have anywhere in the world.

Suffice to say there could be a lot of different tensions and demonstrations converging on the city of Cleveland over the next several days, and it's going to fall to Williams and his officers on how any situations are handled.

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3 police officers killed in Baton Rouge shooting
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