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Tampa's costs for Occupy protest less than other cities

TAMPA - Costs associated with monitoring the Occupy Tampa movement pales in comparison to what other cities are dealing with, especially in communities that have large 24-hour encampments and frequent clashes between protesters and police. New York has paid its officers about $7 million in overtime and Oakland, Calif., has spent about $2.4 million responding to Occupy protests. Overall, the first two months of Occupy protests has cost cities across the nation $13 million and law enforcement agencies carry the heaviest financial burden, according to a survey by The Associated Press. So far, local taxpayers aren't faced with an exorbitant bill.
In Tampa, police officers have been paid no overtime to check up on protesters because they do so during their regular shifts, police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said. There has been no need to hire additional officers, she said. "We're not going to allow what's happening in other cities to happen here," Davis said. "If one tent goes up, another one will [follow]." The agency has not yet tallied the financial impact of the hours officers have spent monitoring Occupy Tampa, which has set up its home base at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, 400 N. Ashley Drive. "While we're not incurring any overtime costs, it is costing the city money," Davis said. "It is diverting them from other duties, other calls." While violence has broken out in other Occupy movements across the country, Davis said that hasn't happened here. Protestors have not been evicted from the park and most know the officers who monitor them on a first-name basis, she said. Occupy Tampa supporter Russell Fox said the police presence at the park is "overkill." Protester Chris Cope said about 10 officers give them a daily wake-up call at 6 a.m. Police return, like clockwork, at 10 a.m. then again when the park closes at 10 p.m., he said. "There's about four more visits between [those visits], every day," said Cope. "The police don't keep a tab? It's got to have cost them thousands of dollars, sending 10 officers to handle 40 to 50 protesters who are peaceful and just exercising our rights." The main battle between police and protestors is over a piece of property adjacent to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Some Occupy Tampa members have repeatedly defied police and tried to sleep on the grass in Kiley Garden Park. At least 15 Occupy Tampa participants have been arrested for trespassing and other charges at Kiley Garden since the local movement started. A few protesters have had success spending the night there without being led out of the park in handcuffs. On Nov. 8, Occupy Tampa posted a video on YouTube showing four protesters sleeping in Kiley Garden. Near them was a sign that said, "This is our park." In an email to The Tampa Tribune, protesters wrote that Occupy Tampa scored a "victory" against police when the "four members successfully camped out overnight without arrest at Kiley Garden Park." Even those arrests haven't driven up costs, authorities said. Most of the Occupy Tampa members posted bail the next day, which doesn't severely impact taxpayers' wallets, Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said. It costs about $100 a day per inmate, he said. The jail population is about 3,000. But taxpayers are footing the bill for Occupy Tampa in other ways. The constant presence of protesters has forced the city to stock up on more toilet paper, soap and cleaning supplies, which is an extra $300 a month, city spokeswoman Ali Glisson said. Before the protesters arrived, monthly maintenance costs for the downtown park was $1,000, she said. Occupy Tampa has been at the park for 45 days, denouncing major banking companies, a shrinking middle class, government debt and other issues. The city has allowed protesters to sleep on a sidewalk along Ashley Drive, but not in public parks. About 20 people usually spend the night there, organizers said, and the number of protesters peak at about 50 during the evenings. The public restrooms at the park are open until 10 p.m. Occupy Tampa's presence has also prompted the parks and recreation department to pressure wash the sidewalks more often. There has been no damage to park's grounds or buildings, Glisson said. That's a far cry from what happened in Los Angeles, where damage to a public park surrounding City Hall cost the city $200,000. More than 500 tents had sprung up on the property, and the lawn, sprinklers, fountain and landscaping were destroyed.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. rreyes@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7920

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