Protesters for and against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump clashed outside the Costa Mesa fairgrounds where he was scheduled to speak Thursday night. There were a few scuffles before the event, but Orange County law enforcement had geared up for the possibility of violence.
In one tense moment, protesters broke up a fight between the two camps before police got involved. Several officers appeared to be holding bean bag guns.
The rally was set to begin at 7 p.m. at the Orange County fairgrounds at the Pacific Amphitheatre. Sheriff's officials estimated it could draw around 8,000 to 10,000 people.
See video of the long line for the event:
There were anti-Trump protesters at the event, along with supporters, both sides with signs. Pro- and anti-Trump groups chanted at each other.
Capt. Jeff Hallock, division commander for North Operations, which includes the department’s special events team, said the rally was scheduled last minute. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department was notified just Tuesday about the rally.
“We do talk to his people to get an idea of what to expect and what his plans are,” Hallock said before the event. “But we’re scrambling and we’re moving quick.”
Hallock said he’s confident the department has enough deputies to patrol inside the fairgrounds and its outskirts. He said sometimes the real task is figuring who will be at an event rather than how many.
“Is it going to be 90 percent supporters and 10 percent naysayer?” he said. “It’s really that unknown and what the atmosphere of the rally will be that’ll present the biggest challenge for us right now.”
Early conversations about planning and on-the-ground observations are key to effectively policing protests, rallies and large events, said Jay Wachtel, a lecturer of criminal justice and policing at Cal State University, Fullerton.
“You got to observe,” he said. “You have to know what’s going on.”
Wachtel said having officers on-site early helps when it comes to understanding the origins of scuffles so that responding officers know what the situation is and can use the appropriate force necessary.
He also said police should have a visible but soft presence to set the tone that law enforcement is watching and aware.
The event’s announcement came one day after five people, including two children, were pepper-sprayed by someone outside of Anaheim City Hall in a confrontation between Trump followers and protesters.
Both factions were at Anaheim City Hall because of a resolution to condemn Trump's rhetoric against minority groups including Muslims, immigrants and women. After prolonged debate, the City Council decided to do nothing with the resolution.
This will be Trump’s first visit to Orange County this year during the presidential campaign, while his most formidable challenger Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has made at least two stops in the region this year.
Trump tweeted about his poll numbers in California earlier this week.
This story has been updated.