A CONSTITUTIONAL PLAYBOOK
WHAT IS A NATIONAL
SPECIAL SECURITY EVENT?
The 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC) is a
National Special Security Event (NSSE). This means that
security will be coordinated by a number of federal
agencies, rather than the Cleveland Police alone. The U.S.
Secret Service Major Events Division will design and direct
a master security plan in partnership with local law
enforcement. Additionally, partner federal agencies will
likely be involved in planning and overseeing the event,
including the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal
Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Emergency
Management Agency, the Department of Justice, and the
Department of Defense. For example, the Federal Aviation
Administration will oversee air control, and likely institute
strict airspace regulations. Additionally, Cleveland will
contract with other agencies for security purposes.
The NSSE designation comes with $50 million to pay for
heightened security measures, including expanded law
enforcement and surveillance. Measures used in the past
• Less-lethal ammunition. Weapons are named “less-lethal”
when the government does not consider them deadly
(e.g., guns, bombs), even though they can cause death.
These weapons include rubber or wooden bullets,
Tasers, tear gas, sound amplifiers, bean bags, sting ball
grenades, pepper spray, physical or hand-to-hand force,
and other devices. Less-lethal weapons are commonly
used at these events.
• Free speech zones. Security plans often include zones
or pens to contain protestors. These tend to be small
enclosures where law enforcement can monitor
demonstrations and control their volume and size.
Constitutionally, a designated speech area should,
at minimum, allow the protestors’ messages to reach
the target audience.
• Security perimeters around the event. Generally, there
are two levels of security perimeter, one restricted to
the NSSE attendees, and the other open to individuals
employed within the perimeter but not the public.
These large security grants from the federal
government also allow cities to purchase
military grade equipment of questionable
value in policing municipalities, referred to
as militarization. An over-reliance on high
performance weaponry means less effort is
made to provide speech venues and employ
tactics that avoid confrontations.
Protesting WITHOUT a permit
1. Everyone has the right to peacefully protest on
public property, including parks and sidewalks.
2. No one has a right to protest on private property
(for example, a business or private residence)
unless the owner gives permission.
3. Protest activities protected by the Constitution
include: handing out literature, chanting, signholding,
and engaging in verbal debate.
The following activities are not protected:
endangering or harming others; blocking
building entrances, traffic, or pedestrians
on the sidewalk; and disobeying laws. Civil
disobedience (violating the law to make a
political statement) is not protected speech
and can lead to arrest.
Protesting WITH a permit
1. A permit is required to walk in the street, block traffic,
or take up a lot of sidewalk space.
2. In Cleveland, impromptu demonstrations that would
otherwise require a permit are allowed without one,
if police are notified of the demonstration eight hours
3. For more information about Cleveland’s parade
permit process, visit http://www.acluohio.org/
Q & A Specific protest activities
1. Can a demonstrator carry signs?
Yes. Sign holding is almost always protected. But posting
signs on public property, including over highways, is illegal
except by permit.
2. Can a demonstrator distribute literature?
Yes. Distributing literature, in public places is legal without
a permit. But littering of these documents, including leaving
them on cars, is illegal.
3. Can a demonstrator put a table on a public sidewalk?
Probably not without a special permit, particularly if it
blocks pedestrian traffic.
4. Can a demonstrator use chalk on a public sidewalk?
Probably. No law prohibits chalking public property.
5. Can a demonstrator use speakers or other sound amplifiers,
such as a bullhorn?
Probably not without a permit.
6. Can demonstrators wear a mask as part of their protest?
Yes, but an officer may require them to provide identifying
information (like their name, address, and date of birth)
if they are suspected of having committed or witnessed
a crime. However, they do not need to show identification.
If you do not provide the requested information, you may
be subject to arrest.
Q & A “Occupying” public spaces and buildings
1. Can a demonstrator hold an overnight demonstration
in a park?
No. But other public areas, like sidewalks, are usually
open 24 hours.
2. Can a demonstrator sleep on the sidewalk?
Probably not. Similar to setting up tables, sleeping on
the sidewalk would illegally block pedestrian traffic.
3. Can a demonstrator pitch a tent on public property?
Not without a permit, unless tents are generally allowed
at that location.
4. Can a demonstrator remain inside a closed public building?
No, this is trespassing.
Q & A Privacy protection
1. Can police lie to infiltrate an organization?
Yes. No law prohibits police from lying, including posing as
civilians in person or on social media.
2. Can police search an organization’s meeting place?
Generally, not without a warrant. However, government
agents may try to enter a place based on health, housing or
other government regulations to spy on a group’s activities.
Police cannot search an area to retaliate against a person’s
or group’s political views.
3. Can police collect fingerprints for identification?
Police have fingerprints on file for everyone who has ever
been charged with a crime. Unless someone demands that
their fingerprints be destroyed, they may still be on file,
even if their record was sealed. Police usually do not collect
fingerprints for minor or misdemeanor crimes, except first
4. Can police make a demonstrator unlock their cell phone?
No. Cell phones are protected by the Fourth Amendment,
and police cannot look at phone data without a search
5. Can police arrest a demonstrator for using a cell phone?
Under the City’s flash mob laws, which prohibit groups from
organizing spontaneous gatherings via social media or
text to commit a crime, cell phones and other devices are
categorized as “criminal tools.” This means that police may
arrest someone for using their phone if police reasonably
believe that the phone is being used to commit a crime.
6. Can police track a person’s location?
Yes. Federal and some local law enforcement have been
known to use devices to track individuals using their cell
phones. These devices can acquire cell phone numbers,
locations, and metadata. When combined with unauthorized
software, it can also collect message content.
Demonstrators and others should be aware that police may
• track and infiltrate activist groups.
• infiltrate organizations, secretly film or photograph
individuals, or keep records of activities. When in public,
assume that police are monitoring all activities.
• track protest planning on social media, including
Facebook and Twitter.
• track individuals using their cell phone location.
• collect information about a person’s identity, including
fingerprints and criminal history.
• briefly stop and question a person in public,
if the police have reason to believe that person committed
• search someone’s belongings, home or other location, but
generally must obtain consent or a warrant from a judge.
Everyone has the right to photograph, video and
audio record the police.
Q & A
Mass arrests and dispersal orders
1. Must police warn protestors before making arrests?
Yes. Before arresting protestors taking part in mass
demonstrations, police regulations require officers to warn
protestors to leave the area or face arrest. This warning must
be loud enough to be heard by everyone and provide clear
instructions about where the protestors should go.
2. If a demonstrator “goes limp” in police custody, is that resisting
Yes. State law prohibits “going limp.”
3. Can police use force to disperse a protest?
Probably. At large demonstrations, police have used
“less-lethal” force against protestors, including sound
amplifiers, Tasers, pepper spray, wooden or rubber bullets,
and physical violence.
4. Can demonstrators advise others of their rights during arrest?
Yes. If a person is being arrested, another individual can inform
that person of their rights. This is protected speech, so long
as what the person is saying is true and there is no direct
interference with police conduct.
Q & A
1. Can people record police activities?
Yes. Everyone has a right to openly videotape police
while in public.
2. Can police confiscate photographs, videos, or devices?
No. Police cannot view or seize property without a
warrant, unless they make an arrest.
Q & A
Documenting police encounters
Police searches and identification
1. Can police require individuals to identify themselves?
Yes. If the police suspect that a person has been
involved in or witnessed a crime, the police can require
that person to provide their name, address, and date of
birth. However, they do not need to show identification.
2. Can the police search a person or their belongings?
Not without consent or a search warrant. But if an
individual is under arrest, or there are dangerous
circumstances, the police may pat down a person or
look through their vehicle to search for a weapon.
3. When can the police stop or “detain” someone?
A person is stopped or “detained” when an officer uses
enough force that an individual does not feel free to
leave. To detain a person, the police must reasonably
believe that person committed a crime.
ACLU of Ohio
For Know Your Rights resources please visit
Phone (216) 472-2200
For citations and more information please visit
Follow us on Twitter (@acluohio) and
To apply for a permit, access
Complete and send the application to the
Cleveland Department of Public Works,
Office of Events & Marketing, 500 Lakeside Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44114; or to LLAW@city.cleveland.oh.
us. For more information, call (216) 664-2484.
Call the Cleveland Police 8 hours in advance
at (216) 623-5011 (Field Division)
or (216) 623-5000 (general line)
County sheriff and jail booking
Call (216) 443-6000
Legal and arrestee support
Tracks protest arrestees and provides
See also www.clemovementlaw.com
National Lawyers Guild
Offers legal observers for protests
and may provide representation for
Call (216) 505-0654 (that is, 5050-NLG),
or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cuyahoga County Public Defender