Politics

5 Things Philly and Cleveland Are Doing to Brace for Convention Mania

Opening a prison, for one

Holmesburg Prison seen from the air in Philadelphia. (Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

A fortress-like prison that has been the backdrop for horror movies will be opened in case of mass arrests during the Democratic National Convention. The move is one of several extraordinary steps city officials in Philadelphia and Cleveland have taken to brace for the events.  

Tens of thousands of demonstrators are expected to swarm into both cities during the party conventions next month, prompting concerns about potential violence or even terrorist attacks. Republicans meet in Cleveland July 18-21 while the Democrats gather in Philadelphia July 25-28.  

Both cities received $5o million in federal grants to cover security expenses. Here are five things they are doing to buttress themselves from the onslaught:

1. Open a prison

The long shuttered Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia is being readied to take in overflow from the city's jails, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer . City officials said arrested demonstrators would be held in a gymnasium with 100 beds, showers and air conditioning, not the cell blocks where inmates were once subjected to biochemical experiments and hundreds of reported rapes.  

[ Fear and Loathing in Cleveland ]

2. Police double-down

Cleveland police will be fortified with barricades, bicycles, batons and 2,000 sets of riot gear , along with other equipment, according to several media reports. The city's 1,500-officer force will be working 12-hour shifts, with another 2,500 officers expected from neighboring departments and from out of state.

3. A not-so-white picket fence

The sports arena where Hillary Clinton will be headlining the Democratic convention in Philadelphia will be surrounded by a specially erected no-scale fence . An equivalent "hard zone" will be secured by the Secret Service in Cleveland, where organizers expect as many as 50,000 demonstrators drawn by controversial presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump.

4. Locksmiths

A team of lock breakers has been assembled in Cleveland, in case demonstrators chain themselves to objects or other people.

5. Unfree speech?

Philadelphia officials won't guarantee that nonviolent protesters without permits will be allowed to demonstrate, prompting concerns from the American Civil Liberties Union that the city is backing down on its promise to tolerate dissent during the convention. The group is also criticizing the city for stating that it does not plan to issue permits for demonstrations on a main downtown throughway that is a frequent site of political protests.

Contact Akin at  stephanieakin@rollcall.com  and follow her on Twitter at  @stephanieakin .

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