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The High Cost of Protests

The High Cost of Protests

Mid County Post
Chief Richard Ehle
Crime Beat

In last month’s article I discussed the challenges faced by law enforcement agencies in trying to effectively deal with the threat of domestic and internationally sponsored terrorism. A month later, law enforcement agencies and the communities we represent must tackle the additional philosophical, financial and tactical challenges posed by demonstrations and civil disobedience by citizens opposed to the US war against Iraq.
Law enforcement agencies are very sensitive to the right of our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right of free speech. At the same time, we are sensitive to the desire of the majority of citizens, who do not participate in demonstrations and merely want to go about their daily lives without being interfered with or inconvenienced by a protest or demonstration. Generally, law enforcement attempts to assume a neutral position in dealing with peaceful demonstrations, while at the same time insuring public safety and property rights of others is not violated.
However, law enforcement agencies once noticed or contacted about a planned demonstration must insure that both citizens and property rights are equally protected, or they risk criticism and possible civil liability. Therefore, a police presence is generally required to limit potential violations of law, property damage and to limit potential liability to the jurisdiction in which the incident occurs. In small peaceful demonstrations the number of staff and police resources required to handle such a matter can remain relatively small. However, in larger planned demonstrations where potential civil disobedience or property damage is anticipated or advertised by the promoters of the event, law enforcement managers usually plan for a “worst case” scenario. Special care is needed in planning for the event, in communicating with the organizers of the protest, and in securing and deploying resources to effectively deal with the incident.
In February members of the Santa Cruz Resource Center for Nonviolence contacted the Capitola Police Department. We were told that the group was planning a demonstration on March 5, 2003 at the Armed Forces Recruiting Offices located in Capitola. Although the organizers of the demonstration stated they did not anticipate any violence, they did state that some members of the group were committed to acts of civil disobedience and arrest. Organizers of the protest informed the Police Department that they anticipated about 200-250 people would attend the event. In preparation of the demonstration the Capitola Police Department had to immediately cancel all days off for staff on Wednesday March 5, 2003. The Sheriff’s Department was notified of the planned demonstration, as was the California Highway Patrol. Both agencies were notified due to the relatively small number of staff available at the Capitola Police Department for a potential demonstration of this size and the close proximity of the location of the protest to the major thoroughfares of 41st Avenue and Highway 1.
On March 5, 2003 approximately 150-200 individuals arrived in Capitola to conduct their protest in front of the Armed Forces Recruiting Offices and on 41st Avenue. Members of the Capitola Police Department were on hand as were members of the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Department and the CHP. The demonstration was relatively peaceful, as the Armed Forces Recruiting Offices in anticipation of the protest had decided to close for the day. Unfortunately, protestors decided to come back on Thursday and Friday March 6-7, 2003 and again on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, March 19-20-21. Overall law enforcement costs for March 5th alone amounted to over $19,000 for the three law enforcement agencies. Since then, the two-week total for providing public safety at the Armed Forces Recruiting Offices is certainly approaching or perhaps has by now exceeded $35,000.
Capitola is not the only jurisdiction in Santa Cruz County which has spent a considerable amount of time and money to police demonstrations, on the contrary, the Sheriff’s Office and the Santa Cruz Police Department have also experienced the same type of incidents within their respective jurisdictions. Costs for these operations generally come from a Department’s general fund budget. However, due to reductions in most of our budgets, the impact of the State deficit, reduced revenues and rising operations costs, cities face a very serious dilemma. The costs associated with continued demonstrations and protests of this sort, could quickly bankrupt a city or county. According to the news, San Francisco is currently spending in excess of a half million dollars a day in increased public safety costs to deal with demonstrations there. Costs incurred by government in dealing with protests, demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience will certainly have serious consequences on public education, social services, public health, community grants and other government funded services. Of primary concern to most citizens is the fact that when public safety staff is tied-up with protests and demonstrations they are unavailable for emergency calls, investigations, traffic enforcement and other crime prevention duties. The dichotomy here is that the community ends up paying a lot more for police service, while service levels end up being significantly reduced.
In discussing this issue, the Santa Cruz County Law Enforcement Chief’s Association believes it is critical for communities and their governments to come to grips with this issue. The federal government will surely not come to our aid in this matter. The State currently has a $28 billion deficit and is already severely cutting funds to cities, counties and public safety agencies. I certainly do not intend to debate the right of Americans to engage in free speech. However, I am concerned that the right of a relatively few to exercise their right to free speech, through protest and civil disobedience will have an absolutely devastating impact on education, public health, critical social services for the poor and numerous other programs currently supported by city and county governments. Reductions in funding by both State and Federal governments to local jurisdictions are only now starting to really impact local government budgets. However, it appears that the impact of these cuts to local jurisdictions will get much worse before it gets better. It is imperative that people engaged in protests, demonstrations and civil disobedience understand the consequences of their actions and the impact their activities will have on other services to the community. What this really comes down to is a business decision by local governments and how they want to spend the limited resources we still have. I pray we make the right decisions and can act as responsible citizens at a time when so much is at stake.

As always, I can be reached by telephone at : 475-4242, extension 213, or by e-mail at: rehle (at)


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Bill the White House!

everyone is facing budget cuts, maybe except the military. before anybody starts to look around to point fingers at anybody else, it's necessary that you know where your department's money is going to..

protests and demonstrations come out of the public NEED to address important issues that the government is either not listening or doesnt care enought to listen. blaming your budget crisis on the protestors and demonstrators is a bit low, and unfounded.

"I am concerned that the right of a relatively few to exercise their right to free speech, through protest and civil disobedience will have an absolutely devastating impact on education, public health, critical social services for the poor and numerous other programs currently supported by city and county governments," Chief Richard Ehle

actually, you should be more concerned with how the outrageous military/war budget is devastating education, public health, critical social services and whatnot. especially in light of the $75 billion increase in war budget, and that money is coming out of education, veterens' benefits, etc...

cities and towns across the nation and world are facing serious impacts of anti-war protests and police departments in those cities and towns are forced to have to deal w/ us. have you asked yourself why?

when your officers are on duty at an anti-war protest or demonstration, do they understand the upmost SERIOUS consequences of american citizens' IN-ACTION?

one last point, nobody is doubting how the law enforcement agencies carry the responsbilities to be present and "keep peace" at all protests and demonstrations, but the law enforcement agencies are being screwed over in very similar fashions as do other federal-funded and state-funded institutions.

what needs to happen, is for the law enforcement agencies to realize the current socio-political circumstances and make a clear and conscious decision whether or not they are at protests and demonstrations to "protect civilian and property safety" or to interfere, shut-down, and obstruct efforts of anti-war and anti-imperialism.

that's funny

That's funny, cops wringing their hands going "You know, we respect your right to protest but we're gonna have to bill all your friends and neighbors for this."

Classic passive-aggressive divide-and-conquer tactic, trying to turn the rest of the public against the protesters, like it's the protesters who extort.. Im sorry, "levy taxes upon".. the public. Or the protesters who decide how many $MILLIONS to spend on overpriced riot gear, Lexan shields, kevlar vests.. please!

I filmed the blockade at the recruiters' office in Capitola a few weeks ago. A dozen riot cops in full combat dress to arrest a handful of old hippies singing "We shall overcome"?

No, I'm sorry, that was silly. You didn't to spend 1/3 that much money - you CHOOSE to, because it's fun to have toys, and no doubt somebody has buddies at (or stock in) DefenseTek and Shomer and Armor Holdings, and because *you're not spending your own money anyway, you're spending what you take from us, and you're obviously not very responsible with it*.

Besides.. if govt would stop spending so much money on their puritanical "war on drugs" - a COMPLETE travesty of justice - they could do their stormtrooper act and STILL tax us less.

Furthermore, telling us he supports free speech is nice and all, but irrelevant. This isn't about free speech anymore!

Blocking doorsways and freeways and intersections is about taking matters into our own hands and applying force to create change because *the system isn't working*.

He claims innocent people are being inconvenienced. That's what the public wants to hear.. "we're innocent, we're victims, we don't deserve this, defend us and make our lives easy again."

John Q. Public, I got news for you.

A military does not, cannot, operate without the support of its civilians. Every military *needs* cooks and mechanics and filing clerks and radar operators - the military machine falls apart without these non-combat personnel.

Likewise, a military cannot operate without an economic base. THAT'S YOU!

You're not exactly living in a free country anymore, but neither are you in galley chains. You support this military with your taxes. Under duress, perhaps, but still - you DO IT, and you CHOOSE to do it for your own benefit (even if only to keep from being punished by your masters).

John Q. Public, I hate to tell you but you ARE complicit in this war. It's the dirty little secret of every military operation that even civilians *are a part of the war effort* in any society where the military lives off of the backs of the public through forced taxation.

During WWII the public was encouraged to do their part to support the war effort. "If you drive alone, you're driving with Hitler".. remember that poster?

Gasoline conservation, women finally allowed out of the kitchen and into factory labor jobs, everybody trying to work harder and faster no matter what their job was, because one way or another if America as a whole was more productive, it benefitted the soldiers in Europe fighting against Germany.

But that logic goes both ways, baby.

When your leaders in Washington turn to conquerers, and your nation goes into empire building, and the military is off raiding and pillaging a foreign country over a combination of paranoid we've-gotta-get-them-before-they-get-us extrapolations, and sheer oil piracy..

So long as you're paying taxes to Washington, you ARE supporting piracy and murder.

It's not a pleasant situation, and there's no easy way out.
There's no simple answer or quick fix. This is where we are, because this is the situation we've allowed ourselves to slide into.

To Mr. Chief-of-Police in Capitola,

Your points on free speech are, of course, correct. But they are also *irrelevant*! This is not about free speech, because free speech has failed. Checks and balances have failed. The Constitution, our nation's highest law, has failed. Common decency and common sense have failed.

This is about applying force to choke off the money machine that is fueling an unjustified war. A machine that clearly cannot be stopped any other way.

And don't get self-righteous on me about how force is inferior to reason and diplomacy. You make a living at using nothing BUT force.


on force and rebellion

"... Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security..."
-- from the The Declaration of Independence.


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