Philly expecting the best, but investing in $5 million insurance policy for DNC protests

     Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross talks about the ongoing protests in the city. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks)

    Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross talks about the ongoing protests in the city. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks)

    After a sixth day of protests in Philadelphia over police brutality, police Commissioner Richard Ross said the city’s activists have always protested peacefully, and he expects nothing different either now or during the Democratic National Convention.

    Still, the city will be ready if problems arise: Officials agreed to pay $1.2 million for “lawsuit liability” insurance — more commonly known as riot or protest insurance — to cover the city for up to $5 million in potential claims for officers’ “errors and omissions while performing their professional duties” from July 15 to 30, mayoral spokesman Mike Dunn said.

    The cost will be covered by a $43 million grant the federal Justice Department gave the city to cover security costs, Dunn said. Berkley Assurance of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Landmark American Insurance companies of Atlanta, Georgia, will provide the coverage, which was brokered by Haas and Wilkerson Insurance of Fairway, Kansas.

    In comparison, Cleveland is paying $9.5 million for insurance to cover up to $50 million in potential civil-rights claims stemming from demonstrations at the Republican National Convention.

    While such insurance isn’t unusual for conventions or other large events that draw protesters, civil rights attorneys worry it gives officers an excuse to trample citizens’ civil rights and squash protest to preserve the city’s public image.

    “That’s a lot of money – $1.2 million,” said attorney Lawrence Krasner, a civil-rights attorney who often defends protesters. “Boy, it seems to me the Department of Justice would want to spend that on something more than emboldening police misconduct.”

    During the Republican National Convention here in 2000, the city spent $100,000 on protest insurance to cover up to $3 million in potential claims, Dunn said. City police arrested about 400 activists during the RNC, nearly all of whom were ultimately cleared without convictions. The arrests resulted in 15 lawsuits, and the insurer paid about $1.8 million to resolve them, Dunn added. Besides protest insurance, the DNC Host Committee paid $2.5 million for general liability insurance that will protect the city for $250 million, spokeswoman Anna Adams-Sarthou said.

    Ross, speaking to reporters outside of police headquarters this afternoon, said his officers have avoided clashing with protesters, despite increasingly violent rhetoric — especially during the “Weekend of Rage” last weekend that saw hundreds of protesters hit the streets from North Philadelphia to Center City.

    If any violence erupts, Ross added, he expects it would start with outsiders. Police cited a British tourist for disorderly conduct after he allegedly shined a flashlight at a police helicopter overhead during a protest Saturday in North Philadelphia.

    “Some of the invectives that have been hurled [officers’] way have been nothing short of just despicable. But despite that, they’ve been able to maintain a level of professionalism that gets us through that,” Ross said. “We will maintain this posture going into the DNC. Obviously, there will be people who are not from here who will choose to take advantage of this, as they do with every convention … At every convention you’re going to get this volatility.”

    Protesters have marched for hours in Philadelphia in recent days to protest last week’s controversial deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men who police officers gunned down in Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively. Most protests were peaceful, even if the rhetoric wasn’t: Activists at some marches called for the deaths of cops and praised the military veteran in Dallas who gunned down 11 cops, five fatally, last week during a Black Lives Matter march. (The gunman also wounded two civilians.)

    Of the Philly officers who greeted such words without flinching, Ross said: “You don’t go through [police] training and magically become a robot. These are people. I couldn’t be more proud of the manner in which they handled not only that one [protest], but others as well.”

    After Dallas, Ross ordered officers to double up during patrols. Officers will remain on high alert, probably through the convention, he added.

    “I don’t know how anybody could have anticipated that an individual would have set up as  a sniper at a protest. I just don’t know how that is possible any more than we could have ever known that somebody would have hijacked an airplane and flew it into a building. You just don’t know,” Ross said, referring to the 9/11 attacks. “But it does change the way you do things. We’re not in panic mode. But we are in a position where we would be remiss if we didn’t just take a closer look at all these things. We’ll be just a little more cautious, a little more careful.”

    He added: “And that’s not just about the safety of police officers. That guy in Dallas could have struck many, many more people.”

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