During the first two months of the nationwide Occupy protests, the movement that is demanding more out of the wealthiest Americans cost local taxpayers at least $13 million in police overtime and other municipal services, according to a survey by The Associated Press.
The heaviest financial burden has fallen upon law enforcement agencies tasked with monitoring marches and evicting protesters from outdoor camps. And the steepest costs by far piled up in New York City and Oakland, Calif., where police clashed with protesters on several occasions.
The AP rushes to put this in context:
Broken down city by city, the numbers are more or less in line with the cost of policing major public events and emergencies. In Los Angeles, for example, the Michael Jackson memorial concert cost the city $1.4 million. And Atlanta spent several million dollars after a major snow and ice storm this year.
Well, the notion of holding an Occupy protest does beat the bright idea of staging a municipally-funded concert to honor a middle-aged performer whose last civic engagement dealt with defending his prerogative to sleep with little boys in his bed, so the AP may have a point in that comparison. However, Atlanta’s expense came from dealing with a legitimate and proximate threat to public safety, a force majeure, not an overextended drum circle or a prolonged bout of anarchist squatters on public land. While cities obviously could not have planned for the protests in their budgets, they certainly could have ended them sooner than they did and saved themselves — and their constituents — quite a lot of cash.
In fact, the Oakland police union points out that they did clear out the protesters, only to have to do it all over again when Mayor Jean Quan reversed herself and encouraged the Occupiers to return. All that did was to force police to spend even more money on a second clearing operation, and the bill will top $3 million:
In Oakland, where protesters temporarily forced the shutdown of a major port, the city has spent more than $2.4 million responding to the protests. The cash-strapped city, which had to close a $58 million budget gap this year, was already facing an uphill battle when Occupy Oakland began Oct. 10.
“The cost of the encampments is growing and putting a strain on our already fragile resources – police, public works, and other city staff,” said Mayor Jean Quan. “We will continue to be vigilant and ensure that public safety remains our first priority and that our downtown businesses are protected from vandalism. We will not tolerate lodging on public property, whether in parks or open space. It is illegal.”
Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, said Occupy-related costs will soar past $3 million when it’s all said and done. The city, he said, had to pay more for mutual aid when police removed the encampment at City Hall for a second time on Nov. 14, nearly three weeks after its first early morning raid, leading to dozens of arrests.
“A lot of this could’ve been avoided if we stood our ground when we went in there in the first place,” Arotzarena said. “I know we would’ve saved the city a significant amount of money.”
It’s not just police overtime that’s costing the cities, either. Los Angeles will have to pony up at least $200,000 to replace a lawn destroyed by the Occupiers, a fact that doesn’t appear to faze the protesters at all:
“We’re here fighting corporate greed and they’re worried about a lawn?” said Clark Davis of Occupy Los Angeles, where the city estimates that property damage to a park has been $200,000.
Ah, yes, they’re fighting corporate greed. And how are they doing that? One can poke fun at Ben & Jerry’s and their “hippie” politics, but they fought corporate America by building an alternative to it while maintaining their political perspective. The Occupy movement instead has been a two-month long festival of insipid self-indulgence, where chanting, making signs, not showering, and taking figurative and literal dumps on their communities replaces any kind of meaningful political action:
Since the camp was joined by dozens of tents that belong to the homeless, county workers and others have documented drug and alcohol use, public urination and defecation, littering, bathing in county restrooms, fights and more. Two pieces of artwork on display at the county building were vandalized – although county officials said it is not known who was responsible for it.
At least one incident on the county list wasn’t noted by the Sheriff’s Office: the discovery of an estimated 200 pounds of human feces near the county Veterans Memorial Building, just across the Water Street bridge from the camp.
The county called in a hazardous materials team to clean up the mess, and installed a security fence around the building, which is closed for renovations. There is no evidence that linked the excrement to the camp.
I don’t think it takes CSI: Santa Cruz to get a good idea where 200 pounds of feces originated. According to one research paper at Stanford, that would represent the output of 400 people in a single day, or around 55 people for a whole week. Unless Santa Cruz also has a second camp of people with inadequate restroom facilities nearby, I’d say that we can place our bets that the Occupiers were also the Evacuators.
Cities can take heart, however. In Boston, most of the Occupiers have other plans for Thanksgiving. Let’s hope they keep occupying their own homes for the weekend — assuming, of course, that their families put them through the proper delousing procedures.