Mecklenburg court officials are preparing for the worst-case scenario when the Democratic National Convention comes to Charlotte in September: as many as 500 to 800 arrests if protests get out of control.
To handle the possible surge, Mecklenburg Chief District Court Judge Lisa Bell is planning to double the number of magistrates at the jail's intake center to process protesters and others arrested at and around the convention site in uptown Charlotte.
"No requests for time off will be entertained that week," Bell wrote in a memo to magistrates. "In order to handle what will undoubtedly be an exponentially higher number of arrests daily, I will need to have everyone working."
The chief judge said she plans to have eight magistrates working around the clock because her projections represent twice as many arrests as normal.
Bell's memorandum is the latest indication of the level of discord expected when President Barack Obama and 35,000 delegates and visitors converge on Charlotte.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is expected to add an estimated 2,400 to 3,400 officers from outside departments to its force of more than 1,750 officers.
But law enforcement officials and event organizers have said little else about Charlotte security even as Tampa, the site of the Republican National Convention, has started to outline the kind of police presence its community can expect.
Tampa police said they expect up to 15,000 protesters.
When the Observer asked CMPD how many protesters are expected, Deputy Chief Harold Medlock replied in an email: "We have no idea how many protestors or demonstrators will come to Charlotte. We have no way of determining."
The Observer also asked CMPD for a worst-case scenario for arrests during the convention. "We have no estimates on worst case scenario for arrests," Medlock's reply said.
Cities that hosted the Democratic and Republican conventions in 2008 and 2004 prepared for large numbers of arrests. The actual arrests turned out to be far fewer.
Mecklenburg Sheriff Chipp Bailey isn't expecting high daily arrest numbers at the convention in Charlotte.
He's heard predictions ranging from zero to 800 arrests for the entire convention.
"The number of arrests - if any - is anyone's guess," Bailey said.
"Whatever and whoever comes to Charlotte, we'll be ready to handle any problems," Bailey said. "People have a right to express their views at these conventions. The police and my staff are well-trained. I don't anticipate an overreaction by either. But we're going to be prepared, and we'll deal with whatever happens. We will handle whatever is brought to us."
Most protesters arrested at the convention in Charlotte will likely be charged with misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct and impeding traffic and get processed at the jail intake center in north Charlotte, about seven miles away from the convention.
Chief Judge Bell, who supervises Mecklenburg's more than two dozen magistrates, said all but a few will be assigned to work at the jail's intake center during the convention.
Bell also hopes to recruit magistrates from nearby Cabarrus, Gaston and Union counties to make sure she has enough magistrates. She has already gotten approval from the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) in Raleigh to recruit out-of-county magistrates to staff the intake center.
"We will commit to underwrite the costs of the temporary assignments of as many magistrates from adjoining counties as you can determine you need and can arrange," John Smith, the AOC's director, wrote in an email to Bell.
Bell assured the magistrates in her memo that they will not be in any danger at the intake center.
The magistrates will work in four secured magistrate booths, where partitions separate them from defendants, as well as four unsecured booths that have no partitions.
"Law enforcement will 'triage' defendants, so that no defendants that pose a risk to magistrate safety will be in front of a magistrate in the (unsecured) booth," Bell wrote. "Deputies will be present in the area at all times."
Anyone thinking about getting married before a magistrate that week will have to make alternate plans.
"There will be no weddings performed during the DNC," the chief judge wrote in her memo.
Mecklenburg Assistant District Attorney Bruce Lillie heads a team of a dozen prosecutors that handles more than 200,000 misdemeanor crimes and traffic offenses each year.
Lillie says his prosecutors will be prepared no matter how many protesters are arrested at the convention.
Lillie said prosecutors will try to deal with as many of the cases early so they aren't prolonged. The trials, he said, will be spread out over time.
"The biggest issues will be at the front end of the system - the processing of arrests," Lillie said. "If there are a lot of arrests, we'll need enough magistrates to process them into the system."
Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray also is confident his prosecutors will be able to handle a large increase in arrests during the convention even if it means operating multiple courtrooms for the protesters' first appearances.
"We'll make sure we have enough DAs and talent to deal with whatever is thrown at us," Murray said.
Katy Parker, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina, said she's concerned that some of the city's proposed crowd-control ordinances give police too much power.
The ACLU is specifically worried about the prohibition of a number of items during the DNC, including backpacks and duffel bags if they're carried with the intent to conceal weapons or other prohibited items.
"To me, that looks like the cops can search your backpack for any reason," Parker has said. "If you have no standards, it risks racial profiling, or other profiling."
Staff researcher Maria David and database editor Gavin Off contributed.
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