The last time a major party's presidential nominating convention came to town, riot-equipped Philadelphia police patrolled the streets, jailing hundreds of protesters ahead of time on charges courts later tossed out.

This time, too, tens of thousands of protesters are expected as the Democrats meet here July 25-28. But authorities plan to greet them not with roundups and riot gear but by handing out $100 fines - if necessary - and water bottles. Instead of batons, protesters can look forward to cooling down in "misting tents."

That is, if everything goes according to plan in a presidential year when little has gone that way. Philadelphia - like Cleveland, where Republicans convene the week before - is bracing for the unexpected.

"We're here to protect the rights of everyone," Police Commissioner Richard Ross said. "We will do so as we've done multiple times, largely employing the same strategies, allowing people to protest peacefully, not engaging unnecessarily, and protecting the rights of those who are not protesting."

Eleven groups have applied for permits to protest during the convention, but officials say the reception will be warm. Mayor Kenney and others are encouraging Philadelphians to stick around that week whether they take part in the festivities or not.

They point out that the convention is down at the Wells Fargo Center.

"If you don't have an interest in this kind of thing and you're going about your business in Center City with no plans of going toward the sports complex, you may not even notice something's going on," said Robert Hoback, spokesman for the Secret Service. Unlike last fall's papal visit, "the footprint's going to be much smaller," Hoback said.

Those who plan to protest include environmental and hunger activists, and, of course, supporters of candidate Bernie Sanders - five Sanders groups in all.

As some Sanders activists said at a recent rally outside City Hall, they plan to loudly boycott the Democratic nominee if she is Hillary Clinton - or if they believe Sanders' issues aren't fully aired at the convention.

Sites of the biggest protests include FDR Park at Broad Street and Pattison Avenue in South Philadelphia, where many Sanders backers intend to camp for four days; South Broad Street, where marches are planned; and the Municipal Services Building plaza opposite City Hall.

If the figures on permit applications prove accurate, more than 50,000 protesters could show up - equal to the number of delegates, dignitaries, visitors, and media expected at the convention.

In 2000, after some 400 people were jailed as the Republicans convened, the city faced a slew of lawsuits and had to pay out an undisclosed total in settlements for wrongful arrests.

Then-District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham calls those arrests a "grave mistake." "I think they've learned what they can and shouldn't do," she said last week. "The convention went very well, but I deeply regret the foolishness of some of the law enforcement people."

The insurance being purchased by the Democratic convention's host committee covers everything from fender benders to police missteps to terrorism, said spokeswoman Anna Adams-Sarthou. She declined to say the cost because negotiations were ongoing.

Commissioner Ross, who was in the department's homicide division during the GOP convention but helped with some arrests, says tactics have evolved since then.

"There was patience even in 2000," Ross said. "The climate is a little new, the rhetoric is a little different."

Today the officers under his command handle at least a protest a day - some with notice and a permit, others unplanned and unauthorized.

Will police arrest convention protesters who don't have permits? Ross declined to predict but emphasized a willingness to be flexible.

"I'll just say we are prepared for all of the aforementioned," he said. "People who want to be arrested will make that clear, but we will vet each and every situation as it takes place."

The city has received $43 million from the U.S. Justice Department to cover police cellphones, bikes, hazmat suits, and reimbursement of other police departments that pitch in. Cleveland's shopping list for its $49 million grant included collapsible batons, fencing, and 2,000 riot-gear suits.

Barring extreme circumstances, Philadelphia police won't be in riot gear. "It's not an army," said Lt. John Stanford, a police spokesman. "We'll be in our regular blues."

The city is even trying to relax its laws: City Council is to vote this month on a bill to downgrade nuisance crimes such as disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, blocking a highway, or failure to disperse.

Instead of arrests, those offenses would trigger a $100 civil fine.

"Anything that doesn't involve loading protesters into a van is a step in the right direction," said Mary Catherine Roper, head of the city's American Civil Liberties Union.

Roper has been meeting with police and Secret Service officials to discuss plans, and distributing "know your rights" literature to protesters.

She commended the department's handling of most demonstrations in recent years, saying officers have used "a really hands-off approach."

Roper's chief concern is those who protest without permits - people like Cheri Honkala.

Honkala, a longtime activist, led such a protest down Broad Street on the first day of the GOP's 2000 convention - though police walked alongside the march without making arrests. She is vowing to do it again, with a "march for our lives" to call attention to homelessness, poverty, and economic disparity.

City officials denied her a permit, saying the time and place - down Broad to FDR Park on the convention's first day - were already taken. Honkala said she will march anyway, along with people in wheelchairs and children. "We're talking about the stuff they don't want us to talk about," she said.

Honkala plans to offer marchers training in nonviolent civil disobedience. So does Pete Perry, another longtime activist. He's already trained more than a dozen people and has more sessions scheduled. "You start these little drops and maybe they will spread," Perry said.

The largest protest will likely be in FDR Park, where the city Office of Emergency Management plans to offer water, porta-potties, and misting tents.

"We have not done this in the past, but given the late July time frame and potential for high temperatures, it will help reduce medical emergencies," said Noelle Foizen, the office's deputy director for public affairs.

Security at the nearby Wells Fargo Center will be intense - especially given the likely presence of two former presidents (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton), President Obama, Vice President Biden, and two would-be presidents - Clinton and Sanders.

Even so, it won't be like the pope's Center City-and-beyond visit. Security officials want to close streets only in the stadium area.

They're also hoping not to be seen as the enemy.

"We would hope protesters don't come up with an us-against-them mentality," Lt. Stanford said, "because we are certainly not going to come in with that mentality."

215-854-5506@juliaterruso

EndText