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Cops, cameras and copters keep eyes on Charlotte

Charlotte police officers monitor a protest over the weekend.

Charlotte police officers monitor a protest over the weekend. // Mike Stewart/AP

Watch out, convention-goers, because most of the time you’re going to be watched.

To ensure the Democratic National Convention is as safe an event as possible, local and federal security forces are employing 4,000 police officers, 500 cameras, and two helicopters.

The Charlotte police force, about 1,700 officers strong, is beefing up its presence by bringing in 2,300 reinforcements from across the country, including Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Denver, the Democrats’ host city in 2008.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe describes the convention as a “monstrous event,” one that he has been planning since the day after the Democratic National Committee selected Charlotte as its convention site in January 2011.

Of the 4,000 police officers, 1,500 will be patrolling protests and marches, and at least 250 will be riding around on bikes. The sole job of 20 people will be to sit in a room and continuously monitor the 500 cameras, the bulk of which will be installed in uptown Charlotte, where most of the convention events will occur.

The city was awarded a $50 million federal grant for security purposes, which Monroe said was mostly spent on advanced technology, including a live video feed in both helicopters.

If gunshots are fired, police will be poised to use new technology called “shot spotter” that can identify what kind of gun was used, when it was fired, and where the shot originated. Sensors will be placed on uptown buildings, Monroe said at a recent briefing about security plans for the convention.

Both the Democratic and Republican conventions are designated “National Special Security Events,” which means the Secret Service, FBI, and other top-level federal security teams will coordinate with local forces.

Only a handful of other events are designated as such, including presidential inaugurations and major economic summits. President Obama’s presence at the convention on Thursday to accept his party’s nomination will add a layer of security that the Republican National Convention did not have. “That brings a whole new set of road closures and checkpoints and everything else,” Monroe said.

The biggest protest of the week may already be over. The March on Wall Street South, a loose coalition of groups and individuals decrying economic inequality, protested throughout Charlotte on Sunday. Monroe said before the march that between 5,000 to 15,000 protesters were expected. Early estimates had turnout at almost 1,000.

Overall, police are expecting more than 35,000 people at the convention, including delegates, media, and protesters.

More than 1,000 other convention-related events are scheduled throughout the week, and police are dispatching at least 60 officers at each of those events, depending on their size. “You can best believe that each person thinks their event is just as important as the next event,” Monroe said.

Protesters seeking to either demonstrate or march will be confined to certain areas. The so-called speakers platform is several blocks away from the Time Warner Cable Arena, which has led some protesters to complain that their activities, although they will be allowed to take place, probably won’t be heard by anyone integral to the nomination process, such as the delegates. The designated march route will also be several blocks away from all the official convention action.

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