First Person: What It’s Like To Be a Bicycle-Patrol Officer on the Front Lines During a Political Convention

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NBC10 | Joseph Kaczmarek

Officer Joe McCabe knows firsthand what police officers working on the front lines at this week's Democratic National Convention are up against.

As a bicycle patrol officer and a bike-patrol trainer for the Philadelphia Police Department, McCabe worked the Republican National Convention when Philly hosted it in 2000. McCabe, who currently works in reality-based police training, spent 20 years training bike patrol officers -- the ones who work on the front lines whenever there's a protest, like ones the DNC will spark.

"It's definitely going to be a long week," he said of the DNC, with which he is not directly involved. Some of the officers he trained are on the front lines at the DNC.

McCabe, a 26-year veteran, talked with NBC10 on Monday about what it's like to be an officer on a bike in the thick of it, sharing some of what the officers at this week's DNC might be facing based on what the RNC was like 16 years ago. 

NBC10: What was it like to be a bike-patrol officer during the RNC, an event where there's a lot going on, from protests to dignitaries in town?

McCabe: We didn't really see any of the speakers, we were so busy with all of the protesters. And we had a lot during the RNC. It was pretty hectic.

NBC10: What was a typical day like for a bike officer during the RNC?

McCabe: Extremely hot, like it is now. I think every day was [hot] like it is today, or it felt like it was, anyway. But it was a lot of waiting around and waiting for them [protesters] to set up their protest marches, and then when they would march, if they marched really slow, we couldn't really sit on and ride the bikes with them, we'd actually have to get on foot and walk beside them.

I believe we were also on 12-hour shifts back then. I think some of them ran to 16. One I had was 19 hours long, that Tuesday [during the RNC]. I'll never forget that day, when it got really bad with the anarchists running around trying to destroy the city.

Joe Kaczmarek

NBC10: What kinds of things were they doing that day?

McCabe: They started lighting fires, lighting trash cans on fire, trying to set up roadblocks so they would block the whole intersection. One I recall was at Broad and Spruce. They used a device called a "sleeping dragon" where they actually handcuffed their hands inside a pipe ... they chain-lock their hands together inside a PVC pipe.

NBC10: As an officer, what do you do in that case?

McCabe: What we did on that one, we separated the crowd from the sleeping dragon, and we had a unit that would come in and cut the pipes off them.

NBC10: What's the most challenging part of being a bike officer during this kind of event?

McCabe: Mostly it was the heat, and the waiting around, waiting for them to get moving. There was a lot of waiting and waiting, and then when they'd get moving, you'd have to jump right into it. So it was hard to get going after sitting around and waiting. Most of the time we were patrolling ... the teams would keep crossing intersections so the protesters would see, 'Wow, there's a lot of cops out here.'

NBC10: What are some of the things police out there during this kind of event are up against that people don't realize?

McCabe: The cops are standing on the front line, and most of the time it's the bikes, and you have people screaming and cursing and spitting and throwing all types of substances on you, and you don't even know what it is. I don't think people realize what the cops are dealing with there. And they have to stand their ground and hold the line. People stand there, scream at you right in your face, and call you all kinds of names. Some people even try to grab your bike from you.

NBC10: When you say people would throw things -- what did they throw?

McCabe: It's usually like water balloons. There will be water balloons or they'll squirt water bottles at us that have something inside them. Usually it stains you, so it's got something in it. I can only imagine what it is.

NBC10: Is there anything that happened during the RNC that particularly stands out to you -- a clash between police and protesters or anything like that?

McCabe: Oh yeah, there was one where a lieutenant was on 17th and the Parkway, and a whole bunch of the anarchists kind of attacked him in his police car. That was a situation where they were throwing stuff all over and fighting him. It went to an assist, and all the bikes came flying in from wherever they were located to clear the car. His windows were all broken out. He had stains on his shirt from whatever stuff they were throwing on him. That was a pretty bad one.

NBC10: Do you anticipate this level of clashing during the DNC?

McCabe: I hope it's not, because I'm not out there to help them. So I hope the guys are OK out there. I feel like I should be out there myself ... I hope they know what they're doing and how they can handle it.

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