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2024 Political Conventions Resources and Tips

Balloons descend from the ceiling of a large arena onto a crowd of people at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Balloons descend after Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech during the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has created this page to provide journalists covering the 2024 national political conventions with a collection of resources to stay safe and tips to be prepared. It will be updated on a rolling basis to include the latest information on security plans and additional resources.

Navigate to: Trainings | Legal Hotline | Convention Tips | Resources for Journalists


Trainings

The Reporters Committee and the National Press Photographers Association are partnering to lead free legal trainings for journalists covering the 2024 national political conventions. Both sessions will cover topics including journalists’ newsgathering rights, tips for safely reporting on protests, ways to avoid arrest and what to do if arrested, local bail procedures, and potential security restrictions. Details and registration information is available at the links below:


Legal Hotline

As it has in every election cycle since 1972, the Reporters Committee will also provide expanded support for its free Legal Hotline for journalists covering the conventions.

Journalists who have questions or encounter issues while reporting in Milwaukee, Chicago, or elsewhere can contact the Legal Hotline at 1-800-336-4243, or by using our online form, to reach Reporters Committee attorneys in Washington, D.C., as well as local attorneys who have generously agreed to provide assistance in Milwaukee and Chicago.

We will also be coordinating hotline coverage with Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel of the National Press Photographers Association. It is a good idea to write the hotline number in indelible ink on your arm, so you do not have to worry about losing or remembering the number if you are arrested and your cellphone is taken from you.


Convention Tips

BE PREPARED

Protests occurring at political conventions in the past sometimes have resulted in mass arrests during which reporters and photographers have been taken into custody. Familiarize yourself with the Reporters Committee’s tip sheet for covering protests in advance. It contains practical tips for journalists to protect themselves before and during protests. You can print out this version to take with you. You can also learn about your rights while covering protests — including your First Amendment right to record police officers publicly performing their duties, subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions — in the Reporters Committee’s Police, Protesters, and the Press guide.

Always carry two forms of identification: (1) your convention credential and any police-issued press pass or other documentation of your status as a professional journalist, and (2) a government-issued photo identification card like a driver’s license.

It is generally helpful to make it visually obvious you are a member of the press by prominently displaying your press pass. This could help you avoid arrest if an officer would otherwise assume that you are a protester. If an event becomes the subject of law enforcement activity, the best way to avoid being arrested is to report on those activities in a manner that does not obstruct law enforcement activity, and to follow all police orders. Do not walk through a police line without first showing your press pass and obtaining permission. If police issue a general dispersal order, you may be arrested if you do not comply. Journalists can strategically retreat and then seek better access from a supervising officer.

It is also important to be mindful of the federal trespass law, 18 U.S.C. § 1752, which makes it a crime to “knowingly” enter a restricted area under Secret Service control, to engage in “disorderly or disruptive conduct,” to intentionally obstruct or impede access to any restricted building or grounds, or to knowingly engage in any act of physical violence against any person or property in any restricted building or grounds. The law also creates a “floating bubble” of protection around the president and other dignitaries.

POLICE INFORMATION

The Secret Service, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, local police departments, and many other law enforcement agencies may have a presence in and around convention-related locations. In the event of any incident between the media and police, you should immediately call the Reporters Committee hotline at 1-800-336-4243.

DETENTION

If you are covering the activities of a crowd that invites arrest and want to avoid being arrested along with them, move to the periphery of the activity so you can readily detach yourself should that prove necessary. In the event police detain you, remain calm and comply with police orders.

In addition:

  1. Ask if the officer can give you a citation rather than take you into custody;
  2. Ask why you are being detained;
  3. Notify the arresting officer that you are a news reporter and show your credentials;
  4. Ask to notify a supervisor or captain that a reporter is being detained and request expedited booking; and
  5. Seek permission to call an outside contact who has the phone number of your attorney or the Reporters Committee hotline.
ARREST AND RELEASE

If you are arrested for a low-level misdemeanor, as is usually the case for journalists, the quickest way to get out to continue reporting is to politely let the booking personnel know you are a reporter, cooperate and, assuming bail is necessary, post bail. As part of the booking procedure, you may undergo a medical screening. You will also be fingerprinted, your photograph will be taken, and your identity will be verified. You should cooperate in giving your name, address, and other basic identifying information but remember that other statements you make can and will be used against you in later proceedings. Note that if you do not have proof of your identity or refuse to provide it, you will be detained until your identity is determined.

Milwaukee

Attorneys from the Reporters Committee and the National Press Photographers Association are working with local attorneys in Milwaukee to encourage the Milwaukee Police Department to issue citations to journalists committing non-felony infractions, rather than taking them into custody.

In the event you are arrested, you will likely be brought to the Milwaukee Community Reintegration Center in Franklin for processing. Bail for certain misdemeanors may be set according to a schedule and may not require a hearing.

Although we are working with local attorneys and the Milwaukee Police Department to expedite the process to the greatest extent possible, you may be detained for 12 or more hours before bail is set. Prosecutors have 48 hours after arrest and booking to determine whether to charge and prosecute you for a misdemeanor; this increases to 72 hours for a felony charge.

You may be released on bond pursuant to what is known as a “signature bond.” This is a commitment to return to court without having to post any money immediately. Bail may be paid 24/7 by cash or credit card. You may pay in person at the kiosks located on the ground floor (Level G) of the Criminal Justice Facility, 949 N. 9th Street. All persons paying bail must have a current valid picture ID. The following are acceptable forms of payment: cash, cashier’s check, money order, and Visa or MasterCard credit cards. Bail cannot be paid online. However, money can be put on an occupant’s commissary account to provide for self-bail. Information on how to deposit funds to an occupant’s commissary funds can be found here. Funds may also be deposited via phone at 866-345-1884.

Chicago

Attorneys from the Reporters Committee and the National Press Photographers Association are working with law enforcement in Chicago to encourage police officers to issue citations to journalists arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors rather than taking them into custody.

Department members are required to verbally identify themselves upon request and cannot tamper or hide their name tag/other identifiers. Additionally, department members must wear body cameras activated to “event mode” which are required to remain on through an on-scene arrest, search of the arrestee, and completion of the transportation process. 

In preparation for the Convention, The Chicago Police Department has proposed a policy that allows police responding to “crowds, protests and civil disturbances” to make mass arrests.  The policy does not clearly define what qualifies as a “civil disturbance.”  An incident commander can declare a “Coordinated Multiple Arrests Incident” (CMA) when multiple arrests are anticipated or occurring, and individual officers cannot immediately leave to conduct normal processing procedures. In the case of a CMA, an arrestee will be placed in flexible cuffs and transported to the district of arrest for processing while the arresting officer remains on-scene. This policy has yet to be finalized. 

There are several police precincts within a short distance of the United Center, the location of this year’s DNC. The closest police districts to the United Center are the 11th District (2.1 miles), the 12th District (2.2 miles), and the 18th District (2.8 miles). If arrested, you may be brought to a precinct for holding, then transferred to a county jail for processing.

Bail may be paid from 9 am to 8:30 pm, 7 days a week, including holidays, at Division 5, 2700 S. California Ave. Acceptable payment methods include cash, bank, or cashier checks. Cash bail may also be paid by credit or debit card. If you need assistance finding a criminal defense attorney to represent you, contact the hotline. In addition, the Cook County Public Defender’s Office operates a 24/7 arrest hotline at 844-817-4448.

PROHIBITED ITEMS
Milwaukee

The Secret Service is responsible for determining the security footprint for the RNC, which encompasses the area around the Fiserv Forum, UW_Milwaukee Panther Arena, and the Baird Center. A precise map of the security zone can be found here. Governor Tony Evers has preemptively declared a state of emergency during the convention which will allow the National Guard to assist in providing security.  However, the Order states that the Wisconsin National Guard “may not be used to impede the ability of people to peacefully protest.” Several out-of-state law enforcement agencies will also be providing officers and additional support to the Milwaukee police department. 

On May 21, legislators in Milwaukee introduced a proposed ordinance to ban certain items from inside the security zone of the RNC. Notably, the proposed ordinance leaves out most guns, as state law prohibits the city from banning firearms. The full list of prohibited items may be found here. Prohibited items include (but are not limited to):

  •  Air rifles, air pistols, paintball guns, blasting caps, cestus or other combat gloves, billy clubs, blackjacks, swords, sabers, hatchets, axes, slingshots, BB guns, pellet guns, wrist shots or wrist rockets, metal knuckles, nunchucks, iron buckles, axe handles, shovels, or other instruments potentially used to cause damage to persons or property;
  • backpacks or bags exceeding 18” x 13” x 7”;
  • any adhesive or any rope, chain, cable, strapping, wire, string, line, tape or similar material, in a length greater than 6 inches;
  • any glass bottle, ornament, light bulb, ceramic vessel or other brittle container, regardless of whether the container holds any substance;
  • any lock, including, without limitation, any padlock, bicycle locking device, chain lock or similar device;
  • drones;
  • aerosol cans;
  • mace or pepper spray; and
  • umbrellas with metal tips.

The Secret Service has also developed security restrictions on road closures, restricted parking zones, local travel access information and checkpoints, and changes to public transportation that will be in effect in Milwaukee for the RNC. All media inquiries regarding the 2024 RNC security plan should be directed to nsse.jic@dc.gov.

The City of Milwaukee’s RNC website has a comprehensive FAQ section, as well as additional information about access to the event. A finalized security map may be found here.

Chicago

In April 2024, the Chicago City Council enacted Ordinance 2024-0008373, which will restrict activity within a not-yet-announced security footprint in Chicago from approximately Aug. 17 to Aug. 26, 2024. 

The ordinance allows the Secret Service to establish necessary boundaries for secure areas. A primary security perimeter will be established around the United Center. A secondary buffer zone will be established around McCormick Place where additional convention activities will occur. Once finalized, information about these zones will be posted on the Chicago Police Department’s website.

Items prohibited within the security footprint include, but are not limited to:

  • laptops, tripods, monopods, and selfie sticks;
  • backpacks or bags exceeding 18” x 13” x 7”;
  • sealed packages;
  • drones;
  • glass, thermal, or metal containers;
  • umbrellas with metal tips;
  • any pointed objects, including knives of any kind;
  • aerosol cans; and
  • firearms, ammunition, fireworks, laser pointers, stun guns, tasers, mace/pepper spray, toy weapons.

Bikes and dogs will also not be allowed within the security buffer zone.


Protest Activity

Milwaukee:

The City of Milwaukee held a sign-up period for the Official Speaker’s Platforms and Official Parade Route from Monday, July 15, 2024, through Thursday, July 18, 2024. Permits are being issued for 30-minute increments.

There will be two primary areas for speakers, demonstrations, and parades:

(1) North end Official Speaker’s Platform: Located near the Fiserv Forum, available between 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.; and
(2) South end Official Speaker’s Platform: Located near the Baird Center and close to the Official Parade Route, available between 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. The Official Parade Route will be active between 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

Chicago:

Bodies Outside of Unjust Laws, a reproductive rights advocacy coalition, has brought a federal lawsuit against the city for denying their permit to protest during the DNC. The lawsuit criticizes the city’s lack of a published plan for accommodating large-scale protests leading up to and during the DNC and highlights that the security boundaries have not been announced. 


Additional Resources for Journalists

The resources linked below provide helpful information on covering conventions, protests, and other demonstrations.

  • The Reporters Committee’s tip sheet has practical tips for journalists to protect themselves before and during protests.
  • The Reporters Committee’s Police, Protesters and the Press guide covers journalists’ rights at protests to gather news generally, record (video or audio footage, photographs, etc.), and to protect equipment and materials from unnecessary search and seizure.
  • The Reporters Committee’s Election Legal Guide — available in English and Spanish — provides an overview of legal issues that journalists may face while reporting on the 2024 elections, including information about reporting on campaign events, newsgathering in or near polling places, ballot selfies, and access to election records—with specific sections for battleground states.
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Physical Safety: Civil Disorder provides physical safety tips for journalists covering protests and demonstrations. First Amendment Watch’s A Citizen’s Guide to Recording the Police details the legal rights of citizens and journalists to record police officers and government officials while in the public performance of their duties.

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