The mechanism police officials use to create a safe, national political convention is the security perimeter, a restricted area surrounding the convention site. In 2008, the center of that perimeter will be the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"Keep in mind, with the venue, not only are we protecting the dignitaries, we're also in charge of the responsibility of protecting the delegates and the citizens affected by this perimeter or this area," said Secret Service agent John Kirkwood, who joined city and police officials to address the security perimeter. But he made it clear, there's not a lot he can say at this point. The Secret Service won't decide how big or small the security zone will be until two months before the start of the convention in September 2008.
"Businesses still need to be run and maintained, just like residents need to come and go. We do that all the time," he said. "What we do, is we have a measured amount of access. Businesses that need to stay open, we'll do everything we can to accommodate and keep them open. Am I saying we're going to not impact your business or your day to day life? No. It's certainly going to be impacted."
Kirkwood says restrictions around the Xcel Center will be especially tight between the hours of 4 and 9 p.m. each day during the convention. He says he'd like to see those who are inside the perimeter work with security officials.
"It's almost better to kind of use the business people and the citizens that normally live in those buildings as sort of our means of our security as well," he said. "To help assist us as to what's right and, what's not right and what's going on that we should know about."
Along with the 5,000 delegates and alternates, their family members, dignitaries and 15,000 journalists, several thousand people are expected to show up to protest Republican Party politics and candidates.
Several audience questions raised concerns about making sure the city respects the protesters rights to free speech.
St. Paul assistant police chief Matt Bostrom says police will uphold the Constitution and not bother peaceful protestors. But, Bostrom says police officers will also be prepared for the possibility of what he called "anarchists" showing up.
"There's going to be people that come here that really want to get arrested," he said. "There's some people that come here and they want to exercise their free speech rights. But there's others that come here. That's just what happens. And we'll plan accordingly."
Bostrom says any group wishing to protest during the convention will be required to obtain a permit from the city.
Downtown resident Dean Gunderson says the meeting left him wanting more specifics, particularly when it comes to protest and free speech rights.
"They make it sound like they're in control of a protest," he said. "Well, this will be a national protest of at least 100,000 people. I think they have to be a little bit more proactive than just saying 'just apply for a permit in six months and we'll talk about it.'"
Another downtown resident, Ralph Olson, lives in Mary Hall, a transitional housing facility for the homeless a block from the Xcel Center. He says many staff members and residents are worried they might be asked to move if the shelter is enclosed by the security perimeter.
"I want to make sure that we're not going to be abused and forgotten. It's so easy to forget about the homeless and the people that live in this area. It's real easy to get us lost in the shuffle," he said.
City officials told Olson they would do everything they can to make sure shelter and meal services for the homeless will still be available during the convention.
City officials have set up two more public meetings on the convention on March 12 and March 26.