Policing protests against President Trump may be costing major cities more than $1 million a day combined, according to a sampling of city data.
AMI Newswire looked at estimates of police overtime and other costs related to handling such demonstrations in New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland and Seattle. The costs were then extrapolated to cover the nation’s 30 largest cities, which have attracted most of the anti-Trump protests.
New York has yet to itemize police overtime costs for the demonstrations, but Doug Turetsky, communications director of the city’s Independent Budget Office, pointed to the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011-12 for possible comparison. That ongoing protest cost the city about $1.6 million every two weeks.
In the two-week period after Trump’s inauguration, the Los Angeles Police Department spent $303,000 in overtime for sworn and civilian employees to deal with demonstrations, according to the department. In Philadelphia, the costs of the protests for various city departments, including police, fire and street crews, was $2.9 million for nearly two weeks after the inauguration.
In a period covering about two weeks in the wake of November’s election, Portland, Ore., and Seattle both racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in demonstration costs. Portland reported $563,000, while Seattle paid out $377,000.
Most of the protests were peaceful, but there were still hundreds of arrests around the nation as well as incidents of property damage and protesters blocking roads and highways. Those costs were not calculated by AMI.
If the pace of anti-Trump demonstrations continues along these lines in the nation’s largest cities, taxpayers would be left footing the bill for $14.9 million every couple of weeks, or more than $1 million daily, according to AMI’s extrapolation of the dollar figures. The figure is almost certainly much higher for the entire country, where hundreds of other protests have taken place.
Mass protests have become a routine feature of American life, and policing, at least since the Iraq War. Seattle, for example, annually plans for between 300 and 350 demonstrations, so those costs are built into its budget outlays.
In Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Police Department did not provide cost estimates for policing demonstrations to AMI. But in any event, such costs are not causing a burden for the department so far, spokeswoman Margarita Mikhaylova told AMI in an email: “There is no indication that these First Amendment demonstrations have caused a financial strain on the MPD.”
Thirty days into the Trump presidency, there are no widespread concerns about the protests breaking budgets that could lead to reductions in other services. Some, however, caution that now may be a good time to plan for the fiscal impact of demonstrations that could last at least four years.
Ana Champeny, director of city studies at the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission, told AMI, “The high cost of overtime at the New York Police Department is an ongoing fiscal concern for the city’s budget.”
Over four of the last five years, NYPD overtime has topped $600 million annually, said Champeny. Police overtime represents the largest share of city overtime spending, she said.
Trying to break down the political demonstration costs in New York City, however, is complicated because Trump lives in the city, and the line between providing security for Trump and his family and dealing with protests on Fifth Avenue can become blurred, city officials said.
In Philadelphia, city spokesman Mike Dunn placed the costs of policing demonstrations at the foot of the new Trump administration.
“The increased numbers of demonstrations we’ve seen over these past few weeks are the direct result of rushed White House policy announcements and implementation,” Dunn told AMI in an email. “They highlight how important it is for the White House to fully vet policies before they are imposed, for Congress to insist on its legislative oversight as well, and for our federal representatives to open their doors to their constituents.”
Dunn also expressed pride in the city’s Police Department for working longer hours. Ensuring freedom of expression and public safety go hand in hand, he said.
Representatives of police organizations who spoke on the condition of anonymity told AMI that such political protests are inherently costly and cumbersome and that a majority of the protests have taken place in the nation’s larger cities. Policing any impromptu protest or demonstration will demand more in the way of police resources, which is more heavily felt in today’s lean budgetary times, they said.
But such demonstrations are simply a reflection of what goes on in a healthy democracy, say civil rights advocates.
Teresa Nelson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, told AMI that “free speech and civil disobedience have been a hallmark of our democracy since the Boston Tea Party.”
Nelson said she is troubled by the efforts of legislators in some states to find ways to force some demonstrators – especially those who are arrested – to pay the extra policing costs. “There’s actually a whole slate of bills to send a message to people that dissent won’t be tolerated,” she said.
Police have a duty to allow people to express their First Amendment rights, she said. The United States does not have a “retail justice system,” and so does not charge demonstrators – or sports fans out on the street celebrating a team’s victory, for that matter – for police response costs, Nelson said.
“Very often we see an overwhelming show of police force against peaceful demonstrations,” she said. Those protesters should not have to pay for that type of overreaction, Nelson said.