Five strategies the Cleveland Police used to win the RNC

By now it's no secret the Cleveland Police Department along with the federal and state officers who came in from points across the nation to make up a team of approximately 5,200, ended up the big winner of the Republican National Convention.

But how did they do it? Fresh Water staff spent countless hours on the street observing the key tactics that ultimately made the raucous event a cacophonous spectacle instead of yet another source of infamous images and accusations of police intimidation.

We've rounded up the following strategies that added up to a stunningly successful policing story.

1. Bicycles and Boots: The vast majority of the cops roaming the event did so on bicycle or foot, which immediately imbued their presence with a casual nature. Whenever a situation intensified, squads of officers numbering from dozens to hundreds would move in, but they did so quietly. Imagine the difference between 100 police in squad cars with sirens blazing and that same number gliding in on bikes and walking in. It completely changed the tone of the event.

2. Good Cop/Good Cop: It didn't take long to see that engaging the public was a component of this vast team's training. Cops were nodding and smiling and saying hello to everyone they passed. They squatted down to ask kids their name or where they were from. The crowd responded with palpable enthusiasm, posing for photos with smiling officers, shaking their hands and thanking them for their service. And on Sunday, just ahead of the event, when the line of cops on bikes rode through the hundreds of Circle the City with Love participants as they dispersed on the Hope Memorial Bridge, the crowd broke out in applause. The same sort of response would play out again and again over the coming four days.

3. Shorts and Shirtsleeves: While outfitting varied, officers on the streets were largely in shirtsleeves with those on foot in trousers and those on bikes in shorts. At no time was the crowd subjected to lines of off-putting "storm trooper" cops that garner infamous images such as the one of a woman and two officers dressed thusly earlier this month in Baton Rouge.

4. Keeping it Holstered: To further assimilate the force with the crowd, cops largely kept guns holstered. While gunmen could be spied atop buildings and heavily outfitted officers bearing long guns did indeed pepper the crowd (particularly on Thursday afternoon and evening), they were on the periphery. As for tactical vehicles, while there is no doubt there was a fleet of them at the ready somewhere in the city, they were not evident. Hence, at no time was the public subjected to scenes such as those in Ferguson, with police manning menacing weapons from atop MRAPS. Being non-threatening and part of the crowd was the rule all the way up the chain of command – when CPD Chief Calvin Williams was on the scene, he was either riding a bike or on foot in immaculate white shirtsleeves.

<span class="content-image-text">Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams</span>Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams

5. De-escalation instead of Intimidation: All those feet on the street and 300 bikes turned out to be about more than just eco-friendly and nimble transportation. When a situation would intensify, cops would move in and form barriers with their bodies. Those on bikes would dismount and use them as components of instantaneous fencing formed by a line of cops in shorts standing behind bicycles. A line of cops on horseback offered up a more serious barricade, but even then one with a far less intimidating visual than a line of militarized officers behind riot shields.

On two instances, we witnessed a team of cops on bikes "herding" a parade of protestors from their intended path. On Sunday, they redirected the Shut Down Trump and the RNC procession from southbound on East 9th to the sidewalk in front of the Galleria. Later in the week, we watched on as another group exiting Public Square got redirected from southbound on Ontario to Eastbound on Euclid.

When cops did "barricade" a tense situation, it turned into a waiting game. They wouldn't let anyone else in, as was the case Tuesday afternoon on Public Square. They simply told people they couldn't enter the area. Those inside eventually would get hot or bored or otherwise disinterested and leave. When protestors lost the audience, they would leave as well. So it would end in a fizzle. This same scene played out again and again over the four-day event.

All of it culminated to epitomize simply brilliant policing during an event that could have gone another way entirely. It also humanized the massive law enforcement presence in a world wherein such forces have become increasingly militarized. People clearly want to trust cops. They want to feel like cops are there to keep the peace and be a part of the community.

That it all played out right here in the 216 with such stunning success will endure, with the Cleveland Police Department as the nation's founding example of the future of policing.

Get a roundup of Erin O'Brien's live coverage of the RNC on social media here.

Erin O'Brien
Erin O'Brien

About the Author: Erin O'Brien

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit for complete profile information.