Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
For the NYPD, Wall Street Protests Have Hefty Price Tag
Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - 12:00 AM
With demonstrations such as the one on the Brooklyn Bridge last Saturday that drew more than 700 arrests, the police department has been rotating in officers from other precincts — even as far as the Bronx — to help watch over the protesters camped out at Zuccotti Park and help with crowd control during the marches.
It is typical to see officers all over the city drafted to help out at large gatherings — and that typically means a lot of overtime. Now in its third week, the protests are getting expensive for the New York City Police Department.
"This is costing a lot of money, at a time when we are being warned that we may face revenge attacks from al-Qaida because of our recent drone strike,” said Councilman Peter Vallone of Queens.
Vallone, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said he'll be asking for an accounting at the end of it all.
"We're going to spend hundreds of thousands, maybe even $1 million on this that we don't have. Because of these protests, we might even wind up shutting down schools and firehouses because this is costing a lot of money." Vallone said.
The NYPD declined to comment on how much the protests have cost the department.
An NYPD lawyer has been on site near Zuccotti Park, so officers can consult him about whether an arrest they're considering to make is proper.
Senior supervising officers — or, "white shirts," as they're often called because of the uniform they wear — have been out in force monitoring the marches.
Members of the department have told WNYC that larger presence of "white shirts" is customary at large protests because of the sensitivities involved with trying to enforce the law while respecting First Amendment rights, and according to those sources, officers have been instructed not to make arrests unless explicitly authorized by a lieutenant, captain or inspector to do so.
A representative for Occupy Wall Street said in statement that the movement "maintains the greatest respect for the NYPD. Officer[s] who have been assigned to keep watch over Occupy Wall Street protesters are sorely needed in other places. Often they are pulled away from precincts, which are sorely understaffed and it's an expensive proposition."
Meanwhile, dealing with the unhappy owners of Zuccotti Park, Brookfield Office Properties, is another headache that won't be going away any time soon for the NYPD.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said the protesters have a right to remain in a public space, but park owners have been irritated by their new squatters.
In a written statement, Brookfield said the protesters are violating rules about keeping the park clean and safe: "Basic rules intended to keep the park safe, open, clean, and welcoming to all visitors are clearly posted. These rules include bans on the erection of tents or other structures, as well as the placement of tarps, sleeping bags or other coverings on the property. Lying down on benches, sitting areas or walkways is likewise prohibited. Unfortunately, many of the individuals currently occupying the grounds are ignoring these basic yet necessary requirements."
Protesters say they intend to remain on the grounds indefinitely. But members of the police department have told WNYC they have been in talks with the park owners and "indefinitely" won't be a viable option.