On Halloween night, an evening notorious for tricks, treats and the increased police presence that mix requires, Occupy Denver was met by 21 police cars over an hour an a half. After a failed attempt by protesters to meet with city council, ten police cars monitored six occupiers outside the City and Council Building. When the protesters returned to camp, they were met by eleven cars whose assigned officers kept pepper spray handy.
Following the police-versus-protester demonstrations of the past two weeks, much has been made about compaints that the concentration of police at Civic Center Park might result in lighter enforcement in other areas of the city at the same time. The first few altercations cost the city $365,000, and one officer sarcastically told a protester last night that each cop car following the group meant an additional $5,000 out of the city budget. It was a joke, but one with a point: How often and how much does police presence at Occupy Denver continue to cost the city?
"The more active we are, the more police follow us constantly, and I want to know how much this is all costing us," protester James Gardner says. "It must be really expensive to babysit us all the time."
Last night's elevated police numbers began with a trip to occupy the regular City Council meeting, which was near its end, if not already over, by the time the group gathered outside around 7 p.m. Nevertheless, security officers allowed four people in to check on a potential smaller meeting with council representatives while the others waited outside for news. Within five minutes, ten police cars arrived to monitor the remaining six people sitting on the building's back steps. Meanwhile, eleven police officers and two security guards watched the (newly locked) door from inside.
The problem with numbers here is one of preparation, Denver Police Department public information officer Matthew Murray says. Because of the overall size of the occupation, he notes, the police department must be prepared to handle any potential interaction at all times. He adds that incidents such as the one this past Saturday, which escalated with incredible speed as early as 3 p.m., have become learning opportunities in an effort to approach the movement peacefully and knowledgably.
"We're very reactive, and we're trying to be prepared every time," Murray says. "The hard thing is that at times like Saturday, there is sometimes no big response until things get violent, and then there was a citywide call. What if they did get into the City and Council building and we couldn't do anything about it because we only have one car there? Ten cars isn't that many, even if it means we are asked why we brought that many. We'd have people calling the next day asking us why we weren't prepared."
Protesters outside the council meeting repeatedly inquired if their action was illegal and they should abdicate the steps. They were greeted three times with "I don't know" before an answer was returned. The final verdict: The property is open until 10 p.m., and although it was not yet 7:30, the police remained until the protesters left.
"Let's go check on whether the general assembly wants to vote on if we should have done that," protester Corey Donahue joked on the way back to the rest of the occupation.
But within fifteen minutes of their return, the larger group was again met by police, this time eleven cars with their lights on located in the center of the park. No official suspicion provoked the police presence, Murray says, only the wish to evaluate the situation after the earlier attempt to occupy City Council.
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Originally, only one car was on hand. But after a female officer was asked by protester Pat Marsden why she was at the park, she ordered him to back away, called for back-up and removed a canister of pepper spray from her car.
Ten cars immediately followed and stayed on the scene for about half an hour without explanation. Protesters, who yesterday formed a nonviolence committee as a result of Saturday's escalated tension, gathered in the area to demand a reason for the police presence, but received only constant requests to back up farther than the two feet that separated them from police. The officers left the area shortly thereafter.
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Biggest riot squad presence to date, pepper bullets, multiple arrests (PHOTOS)."