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Organization Accuses D.C. of Hyping Occupy-Related Costs

Reprinted from DCist

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, a civil-rights watchdog group, released yesterday a set of emails from District officials that it claims as proof that Mayor Vince Gray’s administration is “[inflating] the cost of the Occupy movement.”

Several of the emails are between Gray’s spokeswoman, Doxie McCoy, and reporters from the Associated Press and Washington Examiner. In the first email, dated November 15, McCoy told the AP that the cost of policing and looking after the Occupy D.C. movement through October 19 was about $21,000—$14,000 for traffic operations, $6,000 in sanitation costs and just under $1,000 for less than 20 hours of police overtime.

McCoy also reminded the reporter receiving that note that as federally administered parks, McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza are under the purview of the U.S. Park Police and National Park Service.

But three days later, the documents show, McCoy’s estimation was dramatically higher. On November 21, writing to the same reporter, McCoy pegged the costs of Occupy D.C.’s impact on District coffers at $870,000, including $22,000 per day in additional police expenditures.

“While the two occupation [sites] are on federal property, the marches and related activities are not,” McCoy wrote.

On November 22, McCoy gave another updated cost estimate to the Examiner, this time pegging Occupy’s cost at $1.1 million, a figure that includes $55,000 for Occupy D.C.’s march to the Key Bridge on November 17.

Pedro Ribeiro, the mayor’s communications director, explained in a statement to DCist that because of Occupy’s nature as an ongoing event, as well as multiple events that “have caused temporary spikes in [MPD] deployment,” the cost of policing the income-inequality movement’s activities on city property is not a static one.

“As the protests continued, the question changed from ‘How much overtime?’ to one that asked more broadly the cost of the law enforcement resources dedicated to the Occupy D.C. protestors,” Ribeiro said. He also said that the early sum of $21,000 through October 19 was off, as MPD had already said the daily cost of law enforcement around Occupy was $22,000. “Not sure if that was something we failed to properly express or if they left it out in their quotes.”

The police overtime pay of less than $1,000 through that date is accurate, though. “Not every officer working on Occupy is working on the overtime rate,” Ribeiro said.

But PCJF contends the spike in estimated costs is the result of the District government using talking points from the U.S. Conference of Mayors that “assert that encampments are causing a financial hardship to American’s cities.” (The organization also announced its findings on the website of the activist and filmmaker Michael Moore.)

In an email chain between the U.S. Conference of Mayors and several D.C. employees—including Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul Quander and MPD Chief Cathy Lanier, both of whom testified at yesterday’s House Oversight hearing on Occupy D.C.—MPD’s estimate of $65,000 Occupy-related spending, covering a period from October 6 to as late as November 28, is referred to as “low.”

Another message later in the correspondence stated that sum was the District’s preliminary response to a survey conducted by the mayors’ group on the costs of policing groups nationwide affiliated with Occupy Wall Street. At yesterday’s hearing, Lanier told representatives that MPD has had to pay overtime when placing additional officers on duty to patrol an Occupy event. Quander said that at major Occupy actions that have taken place on city streets—the Key Bridge march, a protest at 14th and K streets NW on December 7 and last week’s Occupy Congress march up Pennsylvania Avenue—MPD has deployed between 80 and 400 officers.

But Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, one of PCJF’s founders, isn’t buying it, saying in an interview that the District is “seeking to dramatically show the cost of Occupy.” Rather, she asserted, officials are sussing out Occupy-related patrols that take place during normal operations to come up with artificial estimates.

“They’re making up numbers,” Verheyden-Hilliard said. “These are daily costs whether Occupy was there or not. It’s a strained interpretation of budgeting. This is Washington, D.C. There are demonstrations. It’s built in to the budget.”

Verheyden-Hilliard, whose organization also represents members of Occupy Wall Street arrested October 1 during a march across the Brooklyn Bridge, said the costs of Occupy D.C. to the city are “minor.”

Since 2002, the District has been allowed to request up to $15 million a year from the federal government to cover the costs of policing political events with national implications. McCoy refers to this program in her November 15 email to the AP. Ribeiro said in an interview that this figure is quickly depleted. He also refuted Verheyden-Hilliard’s assertion that the city is overstating the costs associated with Occupy D.C. by including normal pay.

“There is what we’ve paid in overtime. There’s what we pay in normal time,” he said. “It’s not a normal cost because [MPD officers] would otherwise be doing other things.”

Ribeiro also found it odd that PCJF is accusing the District government of being in league with Republican lawmakers who oppose D.C. statehood.

“We’re seeking a federal reimbursement for the resources the District is spending for what is a protest of the federal government,” he said. “Occupy is not here to protest the District government. They are protesting for us when they talk about self-determination.”