The head of the U.S. Secret Service said on June 6 that security plans for the Republican National Convention were still being determined as protesters blasted restrictions they said would violate free speech with just weeks until the event.

Roughly 30,000 visitors are expected in Milwaukee next month when former President Donald Trump is slated to become the Republican party’s official presidential nominee. Largescale demonstrations are expected, but how close protesters will be allowed to the downtown Fiserv Forum convention site is up in the air.

Protesters have sued the City of Milwaukee over rules laying out where demonstrations will be allowed.

Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle said law enforcement agencies have been making safety plans for more than a year, including working with businesses on potential impact and creating a secure zone around the convention site. She said further details would come in two weeks.

“We’re fully prepared,” she told reporters at a briefing with Milwaukee police and fire officials. “We realize that there most likely will be demonstrations but we’re prepared to address those.”

Cheatle said she is in communications with RNC officials but sidestepped direct questions about their safety concerns. RNC leaders sent a letter to the Secret Service asking officials to keep protesters back farther from the site than had been originally planned.

“The Secret Service collaborates with our local counterparts for every protective visit, investigation, and large event,” said Director Cheatle. “This expert teamwork will be on full display throughout the Republican National Convention. I want to thank our federal, state, and local partners for their work over this last year. I am confident in the plan being developed and am looking forward to a safe and secure convention.”

The meeting occurred after Director Cheatle toured sites slated for the 2024 RNC, which runs from July 15 to 18 in Milwaukee. The Fiserv Forum, Baird Center, and Panther Arena were part of the visit, which included security briefings from Secret Service personnel and other public safety partners.

In March, the Milwaukee Common Council unanimously approved rules that, among other things, required people protesting within the convention’s general security zone to march a specified route. But the route and other details regarding demonstration sites are not yet public.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson’s spokesman said the city hosted online signups for groups to demonstrate and more than 70 groups have done so. He said final details will come within weeks.

“Milwaukee has few restrictions on demonstrations throughout the city — so if a group wants to hold up signs and chant on a street corner a few blocks from the convention location, the city will make reasonable accommodations,” the statement said.

The Coalition to March on the RNC, which makes up dozens of organizations, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit over the ordinance on June 5. They allege Milwaukee’s rules governing parade and protest activity violate the First Amendment by unlawfully limiting where protesters can parade and exercise their right to free speech.

“Milwaukee has been rolling out the red carpet for the Republican National Convention and all its attendees, spending millions on their security,” Tim Muth, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said in a statement on June 6. “But sadly, the city does not appear to demonstrate that same commitment to protecting the First Amendment rights of people who want to express opposing views on the streets of Milwaukee during the RNC.”

Fleming said the city is “fully prepared to answer the court filings” and has operated in good faith with the organizations involved.

Cheatle was recently in Chicago for a security briefing on the Democratic National Convention, which the city will host in August. More visitors — roughly 50,000 — and protests are expected. Protesters there have voiced similar concerns about restrictions and filed lawsuits.

Chicago police say they were prepared to handle crowds and are undergoing specialized training in de-escalation and First Amendment issues.

Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman said officers were ready for the RNC and will get help from law enforcement agencies in other cities and the National Guard if needed.

“This particular event, to us, is nothing different than any other event that’s gone on in the city of Milwaukee,” he said.

The 2024 RNC is the Secret Service’s 78th National Special Security Event. The agency is entrusted with planning, coordinating, and implementing security operations for NSSEs and has a proven track record since 1998. Other notable examples of these high-profile events include the U.N. General Assembly, the State of the Union Address, and presidential inaugurations.

“The Milwaukee Fire Department holds its responsibility to provide fire suppression, emergency medical services, specialized and technical rescue, and humanitarian services to all persons within the City of Milwaukee,” said Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski. “We welcome and celebrate the Republican National Convention coming to Milwaukee.”

Chief Lipski said that a critical part of the success for the RNC mission was aggressive comprehensive pre-planning of resource needs, asset assignments, training, and communication pathway mapping.

“I can say that we have rarely experienced the level of sincere integration as we have with the United States Secret Service leadership team and Milwaukee Police Department in ensuring the safety of both RNC participants and Milwaukeeans alike during the RNC,” added Chief Lipski.

Sophia Tareen and MI Staff

Associated Press

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin

Morry Gash (AP)