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Steinberg: Cops on bikes wall off risk of chaos at GOP convention

Police officers use the "Barrier Technique" to keep the peace among protesters at the Republican National Convention. Photo by Neil Steinberg.

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CLEVELAND — The Bible Believers are back, standing at the edge of Public Square, haranguing the crowd.

“Your parents hated you,” screams one, through a megaphone. “They spared the rod! They sent you to public schools! Look at you now! You’re pathetic in the eyes of God”

The crowd shouts back, makes obscene gestures, pushes closer for a better look.

Within minutes, Cleveland police start rolling their bicycles around the speaker and his cohort.

“Make way, make way,” says one. Soon there are 80 officers with bicycles circling the platform, separating the incendiary group from the rest of the square.

OPINION

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It’s called the “Barrier Technique” and was pioneered by the Seattle police department, which sent officers to Cleveland to train its 280 bicycle cops. The convention is the first time they’ve used the tactic, to direct marchers, to close off streets, and diffuse angry crowds. If the Republican National Convention’s last day ends as peacefully as the first three, credit will go first to the police — 4,500 from 40 departments across the country, though not Chicago (“They have their own problems to worry about,” quipped one high Cleveland police official).

But the humble bicycle, skillfully deployed, also deserves praise.

“Absolutely wonderful,” agrees a Cleveland police officer. “Saved the day.”

Police officers use the “Barrier Technique” to keep the peace among protesters at the Republican National Convention. Photo by Neil Steinberg.
Police officers use the “Barrier Technique” to keep the peace among protesters at the Republican National Convention. Photo by Neil Steinberg.

As soon as the perimeter of bikes forms, the bike cops start to gradually expand it, polite and coordinated, lifting the bikes and setting them a foot further out. When enough space was created, officers on foot fill the interior, while a line of police an arm’s length apart stood, each facing the opposite direction than the person to the side.

Police officers use the “Barrier Technique” to keep the peace among protesters at the Republican National Convention. Photo by Neil Steinberg.
Police officers use the “Barrier Technique” to keep the peace among protesters at the Republican National Convention. Photo by Neil Steinberg.

“Don’t tell me black lives matter,” shouts the Bible Believer, “because most black people don’t care about their own children!”

“They have a right to be there and express their ideas,” said Capt. Dave Bursten, of the Indiana State Police. “We want to create a safe environment for everyone to express their thoughts and feelings.”

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams was on the scene, talking to officers on the lines, then walking up to the Bible Believers and asking them to not use their megaphone. Their loudspeaker soon reduced in volume, though Jim Giles, of the Bible Believers, said the police did not ask him to do so, but the battery was coincidentally starting to die. Besides controlling the crowds, police also work with protesters to defuse dangerous situations.

Eventually there are hundreds of officers, filling that area of the square. With the volume turned down, the onlookers lose interest and mostly drift off. Soon the Bible Believers pack up and move on themselves, their point made, or expressed anyway.

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