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Cleveland is spending $20 million in federal money on riot and security gear for the Republican convention

Trump Rally Postponed After Protestors Clash With Supporters
Scenes like this one at a rally for Donald Trump have become more and more commonplace during the presidential primaries.
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As Cleveland prepares to host the Republican National Convention this summer, it's bidding on millions of dollars of security equipment and tactical gear for its police.

Cleveland and Philadelphia, which will host the Democratic convention, each received $50 million in federal money to cover the security costs associated with the conventions. Cleveland projects to spend $20 million of that on security equipment and supplies and $30 million on "personnel-related expenditures." Philadelphia has not yet announced how it will use the money.

In March, Cleveland opened its bids for various security supplies. And the sheer quantity of equipment is staggering.

Cleveland will buy thousands of sets of crowd control equipment

Cleveland will buy 2,000 sets of non-ballistic riot gear and 24 sets of ballistic gear. Josh Rosenblat / Vox

Based on public documents, Cleveland is asking for a wide range of things from hay for police horses to riot gear, both of which aren’t out of the norm for a city hosting a political convention.

For example, Tampa spent about $13 million on security-related equipment and supplies for the 2012 Republican convention, according to a Department of Justice audit.

While there were protests in Tampa, they were relatively small. The city focused its spending more on improving the police department’s infrastructure than on police gear. It spent the bulk of the money on surveillance cameras and communications equipment.

Cleveland, though, has taken a different approach.

The city estimates it will spend about 40 percent of its federal grant, or about $7 million more than Tampa, on equipment and supplies.

This includes plans to buy 2,000 sets of full-body riot suits for police. (The city currently employs 1,500 police and will look to add about 3,500 from units based in other places.)

Cleveland has also put out bids for, among other things, 24 sets of ballistic body armor, 300 patrol bikes, and more than 3.7 miles of interlocking steel barriers, all of which can be used to curtail protestors.

The Republican convention might have an especially contentious atmosphere

Groups protesting the Republican Party are expected to show up, much as they have at every RNC. However, this year's inflammatory campaign rhetoric and a potentially rare contested convention could make for bigger and more violent protests than in recent years.

Already during primaries this year, violent protests have broken out at campaign stops across the country, most notably at rallies for Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

Trump’s repeated allusions to violence during his speeches and controversial platform have spurred protests and physical confrontation between his supporters, his critics, and law enforcement.

Trump currently maintains a delegate lead but may come up short of the necessary 1,237 delegates to win the GOP nod outright. If that happens, it would lead to a rare contested or brokered convention.

In this scenario, most convention delegates would be free to vote for whomever they want, voting in successive rounds until one candidate earns an outright majority.

That could mean that even if Trump goes into July with a commanding delegate lead, he may not get the party's nomination in Cleveland.

And that startling discrepancy between who people voted for in primaries and what the Republican Party ends up doing could lead to some serious unrest.

"I think you'd have riots," Trump said on CNN in March about what would happen if he were denied the nomination despite a lead in delegates.

Fellow Republican candidate Ted Cruz has echoed Trump’s sentiment about a brokered convention, telling CNN he thinks it "would be an absolute disaster. I think the people would quite rightly revolt."

Can Cleveland handle convention protests?

Cleveland Chosen To Host 2016 Republican National Convention
Cleveland will host the Republican convention at Quicken Loans Arena.
Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

While Cleveland public safety officials say they're confident the city and police will keep the events secure, others aren’t so sure.

For instance, the president of Cleveland’s police union, Steve Loomis, told that officers have begun crowd control training but do not have the riot gear they need to train properly. He also said he has concerns about whether the suits — which may take 90 days to prepare and send to Cleveland — will be ready in time. The convention is just 96 days away.

Training is essential because it "does a lot more than just tell people how to safely use the equipment. It teaches them when and how to responsibly bring that gear into tense situations," Vox's Amanda Taub wrote in 2014 about police use of military equipment.

While the riot suits are not officially classified as military gear, they will still be new to most of the cops wearing them.

In part because of that, many lack confidence in the city’s ability to carry out the convention without controversy.

The Cleveland Police Department is currently under Justice Department oversight after a 2013 DOJ probe revealed numerous problems, including unnecessary and violent confrontations with citizens.

"They will be facing one of the most complex incidents that they will ever face," Jonathan Smith, a former Justice Department lawyer who supervised the investigation into Cleveland, told the Marshall Project in reference to the convention. "You would want a department that has systems that are in place where there is better accountability and better supervision."

"I’m really concerned all hell is going to break loose," James L. Hardiman, a vice president of the Cleveland NAACP, told the Los Angeles Times. "The big concern is injury to people, damage to property, indiscriminate arrest. The people who actually live here — what are we going to be left with at the end of the day?"

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