Cleveland Police Offer Few Answers About Lack Of Officers On May 30

photo of protestors outside Justice Center
Protestors started at the Free Stamp in Downtown Cleveland and marched to the Justice Center, the site of confrontations with police. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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Cleveland police had few answers to questions about why they were so unprepared for the May 30 demonstrations in Downtown Cleveland.

During a city council safety committee meeting Wednesday, council members questioned how the Cleveland Division of Police missed the plans of so-called “outside agitators” to disrupt an otherwise peaceful protest.

Public Safety Director Karrie Howard said the city’s best intelligence before the protest indicated it would remain peaceful.

“There was some chatter I’m sure that was not picked up because folks who had intended to come here to cause issues were acting with our intelligence gathering measures in mind,” Howard said. “So, it’s always evolving.”

The department included just three messages from its intelligence gathering, buried on page 40 of its after-action report about police response. That guidance was based solely on a Facebook post by organizers, but did note a sharp spike in interest in the protest – from about 800 people to almost 5,000 the day before the protest.

Those police messages also noted that protests elsewhere had turned violent.

“Over the past 24 hours, social media activity for this event has increased,” police intelligence wrote in a message sent May 29, the last one before the protest. “This is likely due to actions in Columbus on Thursday night, and continuing violence/riot in major cities across the United States on Friday Night.”

Deputy Chief Harold Pretel told council members Wednesday that police received no information from sources like the FBI or Ohio Highway Patrol about any plans to turn the protest violent.

“We did not have details on, No. 1 who, what or the magnitude of what they wanted to do,” Pretel said. “We did know there was some activity going. We were not blind to CNN. We knew what was going on in other cities.”

Part of the problem was the FBI won’t some release information before its confirmation, Pretel said.

“They really don’t want to tell you, ‘Hey, today at 5:00 this is going to happen,’ unless it’s really vetted,” Pretel said.

Council members did not press police officials for changes to intelligence-gathering methods in anticipation of the next demonstration.

Earlier this week, Gov. Mike DeWine authorized the activation of the Ohio National Guard ahead of protests planned in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration. Supporters of President Donald Trump’s supporters are planning events around the country for this weekend, including at the Statehouse in Columbus.

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