NEW YORK — 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 gathered figures from government agencies in 18 cities with active protests and focused on costs through Nov. 15, the day protesters were evicted from New York City's Zuccotti Park, where the protests began Sept. 17 before spreading nationwide. The survey did not attempt to tally the price of all protests but provides a glimpse of costs to cities large and small.
But the price of the protests is rising by the day — along with taxpayer ire in some places.
"What is their real agenda?" asked Rodger Mawhinney as he watched police remove an encampment outside his apartment complex in downtown Oakland. "I've gone up and asked them, 'What are you truly trying to accomplish?' I'm still waiting for an answer."
The spending comes as cash-strapped police departments have cut overtime budgets, travel and training to respond to the recession. Nonetheless, city officials say they have no choice but to bring in extra officers or hold officers past their shifts to handle gatherings and marches in a way that protects free speech rights and public safety. In some cities, officials say the spending is eating into their overtime budgets and leaving less money for other public services.
Protesters blame excessive police presence for the high costs in some places. And they note the cost has been minimal in other cities, and worth the spending because they have raised awareness about what they call corporate greed and the growing inequality between rich and poor.
"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.
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.
In New York City, the police department has spent $7 million in overtime on the protests. But that's small change given the department's $4.5 billion budget, which allots money for emergency overtime. Last year, the NYPD spent about $550 million on overtime.
"Public safety and providing essential services is what we do. So the first thing we're going to do is handle the situation, and any situation that comes up," Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said. "So yes, this has been significant and it's been going on for many days, but really in the broad scheme of things, it's not something that we aren't prepared to deal with."
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