Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2023

A Cop’s Eye View on Meeting and Event Security

When the Republican National Convention (RNC) rolled into Cleveland for four days in July 2016, bringing with it 50,000 GOP movers and shakers as well as protesters, media representatives and assorted hangers-on, Edward Tomba was ready. The 32-year veteran of the Cleveland police force who’s now chief of police in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, told the audience at CDX18 what his city did to keep everyone safe during that highest of high-profile events — and how meeting professionals can work with police in their host cities, whatever the size of their meeting.

RNC Security Stars: Bikes, Horses and K9s
Security planning for the RNC, which began two years out, had the benefit of being underwritten by a $50 million public safety grant. While much of it was used to beef up security infrastructure around the city, Tomba said he also used the money to augment the city’s 1,500-person police force with 3,200 additional police officers from around the country.

In addition, he reached out to those who handled security for the previous three RNC host cities and asked them what they had learned from their experience. “The chief in Tampa told me that if he could do it over, he’d double the number of bicycle officers from 150 to 300. So I ordered 300 bikes.”

While he got some backlash from local politicos over spending so much, Tomba said the bicycle officers ended up being the stars of the show, along with the K9 and equestrian-mounted officers. Since the city couldn’t sustain that large a contingent of bicycle officers post-RNC, they gifted 150 bikes to other law enforcement agencies around the region and to the universities who housed out-of-town officers in their dorms during the convention.

What You Should Ask
While your event likely won’t need the resources and security infrastructure of something like the RNC, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with local law enforcement to see what they can offer your event. Tomba recommended that meeting planners ask local law enforcement agencies the following questions:

• Does your law enforcement agency have a special events coordinator? Most cities do have someone who is in charge of working with meeting and event organizers on security issues, he said. Be sure to reach out to that person as part of your convention planning process.

• Will the host city provide safety personnel for pedestrian traffic? This is particularly important if you will have people crossing busy streets to get from their hotels to the convention center, he said. You also can ask if they could have a bicycle officer ride by at a few key points in time to enhance attendees’ comfort level. Off-duty officers also are available for hire in most cities for on-site security at events.

• What else is going on in the city over those dates that could cause disruptions? It could be a marathon that will impede getting around in the city, or it could be a controversial event that might draw protesters.

• What can you do for us? Give law enforcement the dates of your event, the number of people you will be bringing in and any special concerns you may have. If you are concerned that your meeting could draw protesters, ask the city if any protest groups have applied for a permit over your dates. “That’s public knowledge, and it’s not inappropriate to ask,” Tomba noted. — Sue Pelletier

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