The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

After a Violent Summer, a Philly Cop Explains How the Police Are Prepping for the DNC

A veteran detective working the DNC talks about how the recent shootings in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas will affect the atmosphere at potential protests this year.
July 25, 2016, 7:00pm

Demonstrators make their way around downtown, Monday, July 25, 2016, in Philadelphia, during the first day of the Democratic National Convention. Image via AP Photo/John Minchillo

Between the latest barrage of recorded police killings across the country and the targeted assassination of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, it's a remarkably tense time to be a cop in America. Donald Trump's surreal coronation at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week was marked by exuberant displays of pro-police sentiment, but it was also a bit dull—devoid of the intense protests and drama so many attendees almost seemed to be craving.

Now the Democrats are converging in Philadelphia for their own party, with everyone from Bill Clinton to President Obama to Elizabeth Warren scheduled to speak. Bernie Sanders supporters were out in force Sunday, with initial protests bringing thousands of people to the street in near-100 degree temperatures. And the recent release of hacked emails apparently showing Democratic Party insiders talking shit about Sanders forced DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to announce her resignation. All of which raises the question of whether the DNC might actually get a bit crazy in Philly this week, in a potentially more tame rehash of the 1968 Chicago disaster that helped send a man named Richard Nixon to the White House.

For some perspective, we reached out to a veteran Philly detective working with the Secret Service on convention duty, who asked to remain anonymous so he could speak candidly about the mood inside the department. He told us what cops are saying about Dallas and Baton Rouge, offered some insight into the political sympathies of the rank and file, and explained why he doesn't anticipate bloodshed despite the hordes of indignant protesters on hand.

VICE: Hi there, Officer. So have you worked this kind of event before?
Veteran Philadelphia Detective: I worked the RNC back in 2000, and it was a lot different leading up to that. Back then it was more like riot training—with the helmets and all the crazy shit. I remember sweating my ass off directing traffic; there were some [wilder] groups, and someone set a dumpster on fire. But this time, they're treating it more like how they've been treating the [Black Lives Matter] protests—no riot gear, no formations of cops with their nightsticks, and stuff like that. I think by not really anticipating a riot or kind of like, looking for one, I think they hope to avoid it.

How have the recent videos of police killings in Baton Rouge and Minnesota resonated in Philly?
We feel it here. When the protests come, it doesn't matter what you think about that—we know we have a job to do. We don't want to be a Baton Rouge, where we're chasing people down to arrest them. That's not the image we want to portray. We're still trying to get out from under MOVE from 1985 [when Philly cops bombed a house occupied by a radical group and ended up killing 11 people including five children]—trying to be a kinder, gentler police force when it comes to crowds. We're so used to dealing with protesters now and not really turning into a bunch of assholes and locking people up. We give people enough notice—"Hey, we're going to shut down the end of the street." You give warnings, give them citations, cut them loose. Everybody wins.

The cop killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge have to loom large when you work a massive event like this, right?
Obviously people think about that. But we're cops—we can't sit around worrying. The thing I hear the most is: Are they canceling our days off? Are we going to be working 18-hour days? How the hell are we getting lunch? Usual cop stuff.

But a guy with a serious rifle targeting officers—that has to stick with you a bit.
That was crazy. Last night, I went into a store and used the ATM, grabbed a cup of coffee—and I'm plainclothes—and in my head, I'm thinking, I'm going to cover my gun and badge up. You never know if some guy might take a shot. And I've never felt that before in my life.

I understand the risks that come with being a cop. I took the job, I'm cool with it. I'm just cool with it when it's a fair fight—not when there's some dude who wants go around and start shooting cops in the head. It's a game-changer, and goes to show how bad things are right now. It sucks. It really sucks.

And Baton Rouge brought that back, I guess? How do you stay grounded?
When you take this job, you know you could be killed. You don't stay up at night thinking, Shit, somebody could shoot me in the head tomorrow. I don't dwell on it. If you're paying attention, and you have experience, and you're trained the right way, you know what you're supposed to do.

Am I going to have to shoot somebody some day? Maybe. Do I think about it all the time? Fuck no. I'm paired up with a Secret Service agent [at the DNC], and we're going to ride around, and we're going to respond to, "Hey, you know, there's this suspicious guy or package or whatever over here." I'm not going to ride into that thinking, Man I hope I don't get shot, or Fuck, I'm going to fucking blast this motherfucker as soon as I show up. You act like a normal human being—who just happens to be a cop. That's why I've never had to shoot somebody, in my opinion. I've dealt with hundreds of armed people and never had to shoot anybody. Part of that's luck, but it's also knowing how to handle the situation.

I'm not sweating it, man—if it's my time to go and there's some crazy-ass sniper shooting, what are you going to do? You can't plan for that shit.

What did you and other officers you know make of all the pro-cop pageantry in Cleveland?
The Republicans will always be the Law and Order Party, I guess—they're going to do that, the "Rah Rah" for the Cops. But I hate it. I'm a third-generation cop, I love what I do, but I don't do it so people smack me on the back and tell me what a fucking great guy I am.

I had to get my hair cut the other day, and the guy who owns the salon comes over and says, "I've been thinking about you a lot the last couple weeks. I appreciate what you do. I just want to thank you for your service." And I'm like, "Thank you." And I appreciate it! It's cool that he thought that. But to hear it made me so fucking embarrassed. I'm not a soldier. I didn't just come back from Afghanistan for a third time. I'm a city employee.

And it sounds like at least some cops want to avoid a military-esque situation.
I think once you do that—once you throw up shields and put helmets on and stand there in like a formation and all that shit and roll out some tank-looking thing, I think you're escalating it right there. People want to come protest, that's cool. We don't care. Just don't throw shit at us. Tell us that we're assholes and pigs and murderers—I get it. That's cool. I understand.

Follow Matt Taylor on Twitter.

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