DENVER — The first impression of the host city of the Democratic National Convention?
Cops. They’re on every corner here. Platoons of cops ride through the city streets on motorcycles. Police helicopters circle the city. Police vehicles of all shapes and sizes block off intersections.
The cops do not present a “welcome-to-Denver” image. It’s clear that considerable amounts of the federal security grant that Denver, like the Twin Cities, received for security were spent on new, black uniforms for officers here. Head to toe, black. Black combat boots. Many cops carrying black riot helmets and black riot sticks.
To top off the ominous military feel to downtown Denver are the haircuts of the cops. It appears most of them went in for buzz cuts a couple of days ago.
These guys — and it’s mostly male cops patrolling the streets — look as if they’re spoiling for a fight. Many of them carry large quantities of rubber handcuffs.
They’re being called “ninja turtles” by some in Denver. Others say they look like SWAT teams.
The show of force is far different in appearance from plans that have been made in St. Paul and Minneapolis for next week’s Republican National Convention. From the beginning, the weapon of choice St. Paul police have hoped to use is a friendly smile to enforce civility at the convention site.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, along with several high-ranking St. Paul police officers, spent much of Sunday touring Denver’s approach to security.
Coleman was careful not to criticize the Denver style. But he did indicate the St. Paul plan for crowd control will be quite different.
“We want to maintain peace as invisibly as we can,” Coleman said.
The mayor, whose police force is in charge of security for all events outside the Xcel Energy Center, was quick to add that there will be a large presence of police in both St. Paul and Minneapolis when the Republicans come to town.
“There will be large numbers of officers present,” he said. “We want to make it clear to people who are coming to town to cause trouble that there will be a consequence.”
Still, the first approach will be a smile, not a nightstick.
There will be another obvious difference between Denver and St. Paul.
In Denver, the “official” protest site for demonstrators is a 50,000-square-foot cage, behind the media tents and mostly out of sight of the Pepsi Convention Center. The demonstrators are supposed to willingly go to this space, which is cordoned off from the rest of society by a double row of 8-foot high, steel mesh fences.
This location, behind huge media tents, several hundred feet from the convention site, stretches federal court rulings that say demonstrators should be within sight and sound of the convention venue. Apparently, demonstrators standing in the middle of this giant cage can see the top of the Pepsi Center.
The contrast from St. Paul’s designated protest area couldn’t be more stark. In St. Paul, demonstrators will be in an area with a clear view of the Xcel Energy Center and in a place where they will be able to be seen and heard by passers-by.
After studying Denver Sunday, Coleman said he’s more convinced than ever that the Twin Cities are ready for the Republicans.
“We didn’t see anything in Denver we haven’t looked at 10 times in our planning,” said Coleman. “We’re excited, and we’re very confident.”
Doug Grow, who will be in Denver to cover this week’s Democratic National Convention, writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.